If there is no breakthrough in coalition negotiations with Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party, and if Lapid does not back down from his "exaggerated demands," Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will begin rapid fire negotiations with the haredi parties, Likud sources said on Wednesday.
Progress in coalition talks stalled this week after Yesh Atid insisted on obtaining the Education Ministry, which Likud wants to keep for the current holder of the post, Gideon Sa'ar. Yesh Atid has stressed the importance of the Education Ministry, calling it a pivotal role in the battle to shape Israel's future image.
"The coalition crisis we are witnessing is not just a fight for portfolios. This is a fight for the image of the Israeli society," sources within the party said.
Meanwhile, Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, who has been working to mediate between Lapid and Netanyahu, responded to the Likud ultimatum on his Facebook page saying, "my friends in the Likud: Forget about it. It will not work this way. There are differences, and dialogue and compromise are necessary."
Bennett and Lapid met on Wednesday afternoon to try and reach a compromise that both leaders, as well as Prime Minister Netanyahu, could agree on.
The contested issues discussed in the meeting were Likud's desire to uphold its deal with Tzipi Livni's Hatnua and give MK Amir Peretz a ministerial position, as well as Likud's demand to add another deputy minister to the government. Lapid vehemently objects both demands in his effort to reduce the size of the government, and keep it no larger than 20 ministers.
In the same vein, Likud objects to Likud's demands to have the Education and Interior Ministries.
Bayit Yehudi has been vying for the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee. The party demanded the powerful committee – which carries the political cache of a ministry – saying that Lapid had received the Finance portfolio that Bennett coveted, and that Bayit Yehudi had gone down from four to three ministries due to Yesh Atid’s demands for a smaller government.
Bayit Yehudi wants MK Nissan Slomiansky to hold the chairman's post, but Likud Beytenu hopes to give it to their own Faina Kirschenbaum, while Yesh Atid wants Ofer Shelah in the post.
On Tuesday night, perhaps in recognition of the apparent cracks between Bayit Yehudi and Yesh Atid, Netanyahu met with Shas head Eli Yishai. The Shas lawmaker on Wednesday morning commented on the coalition negotiation process, which he has been largely excluded from up to this point, saying, "My heart goes out to the prime minister who is expected in the coming years to be prisoner to the whims of Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi."
After 38 days of coalition talks, Meretz MK Issawi Freij proposed a bill on Wednesday to shorten the amount of time allotted for negotiations to 21 days.
"The current situation is intolerable and harmful to society and the market," Freij said. "To put the entire country on hold in order to play negotiating games is irresponsible."
According to Freij, Netanyahu is busy with "media spins and fights over portfolios" instead of dealing with the deficit or passing a budget.