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With count almost over: Kadima in, Bayit Yehudi 12
By GIL HOFFMAN, JEREMY SHARON, LAHAV HARKOV
01/24/2013
Yesh Atid leader rules out forming bloc against Netanyahu; PM prefers to hand Lapid Foreign Affairs portfolio, but Liberman seeks to return to former job, suggests Lapid 'natural fit' for Finance Ministry instead.
 
With over 80% of "double envelope" votes counted on Thursday morning, Bayit Hayedi was set to win 12 seats, while Kadima was slated to cross the threshold with two seats and the Raam-Taal party to drop from five to four seats.

The votes of 200,000 soldiers, plus those of prisoners and people in hospitals, were counted a day later than the regular vote.

These ballots are called “double envelope votes,” because many of them are listed in their army base or hospital, as well as in their home town, and it takes longer to count them, because the Central Elections Committee must check to make sure they did not vote twice.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu began the process of building a new governing coalition on Wednesday with his Likud Beytenu ally Avigdor Liberman and the big winner in Tuesday’s election, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.

Netanyahu agreed with Lapid and Liberman that the next government would focus on reducing housing costs, reforming the electoral system, and equalizing the burden of service. But they did not agree on which parties should be in the coalition and who should receive the top portfolios.

The prime minister would prefer to give the Foreign Ministry position to Lapid, who speaks perfect British-accented English and whose moderate image could improve Israel’s ties with the United States and Europe. But Liberman said he wanted to return to his former job once he is clear of his legal troubles and suggested that Lapid be finance minister.

“I think that Lapid, who speaks about the middle class and the socioeconomic protests, should naturally focus on domestic issues and take the Finance portfolio,” Liberman said in a press conference at Yisrael Beytenu’s Jerusalem headquarters.

Possible coalitions:



Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon, who is a former IDF chief of General Staff, is expected to be given the Defense portfolio.

Any hope Netanyahu might have had of re-appointing Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who did not run for the 19th Knesset, as a professional appointment ended when the Likud fared poorly in the election and decreased the number of portfolios that will be available to the party.

At a press briefing outside his Tel Aviv home, Lapid ended speculation that he might join efforts to block Netanyahu from forming a government. Yesh Atid is expected to recommend to President Shimon Peres that he entrust Netanyahu with forming the next coalition.

“We won’t build a obstructionist bloc with [Balad MK] Haneen Zoabi,” Lapid said. “The results of the elections are clear. We have to work with those results.”

The final results of the race are expected to be known on Thursday.

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With more than 99 percent of the votes counted, it appeared that Likud won 31 Knesset seats, Yesh Atid 19, Labor 15,  Bayit Yehudi 12, Shas 11, United Torah Judaism seven, Meretz and The Tzipi Livni Party six each, the three Arab parties a total of 11, and Kadima two. That would give the Right and Left blocs each 60 seats in the next Knesset.

The least likely coalition to be formed is a bloc of only the 61 MKs from right-wing parties. A national unity government with Labor is also seen as extremely unlikely, even though several Labor MKs expressed interest in joining the coalition.

Lapid wants The Tzipi Livni Party to be added to the coalition, for a total of 70 MKs, but Netanyahu prefers that Shas and United Torah Judaism be added instead. He tried to persuade Lapid that both Yesh Atid and Shas needed to be in the government to work out compromises on IDF conscription.

While since the election, Netanyahu has spoken to Lapid and the leaders of Shas and UTJ. He appeared to make a point of not calling Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett.

The Jerusalem Post reported last Wednesday that Netanyahu would only invite Bayit Yehudi to join the coalition once a majority of 61 MKs was in place, so he would not have to worry about the party remaining in the coalition following diplomatic concessions, such as the removal of unauthorized West Bank outposts.

In an effort to reach out to Lapid, who is set to be the kingmaker of the coalition, Bayit Yehudi MK Uri Ariel said he had no problem joining a government in which Livni negotiated with the Palestinians, and Bennett told his faction that he was in favor of reconsidering the status quo on religion and state. Such a move would prevent haredi parties from joining the coalition.

Yesh Atid’s second-placed candidate, Rabbi Shai Piron, had tough words for Shas, and promised that his party would not agree to sit in government with the haredi faction if it meant compromising on its core principles.

“We won’t be part of a government of which Shas is the defining identity, in which Shas has a large influence on its character, on its tone, on the discourse, and on its priorities,” Piron said on Army Radio.

“If Shas repents for its former behavior and understands that the type of extortion it has employed in the past is over, and that equality in the burden of national service will be a fact of life, then we can sit with them,” he continued. “But Yesh Atid will categorically not be part of a government in which Shas behaves as it has in the past. The Israeli public has said no to its campaign of hatred and racism, is fed up with sectoral politics and doesn’t want this kind of discourse. It wants to talk about Israeli society as a whole.”

Shas triumvirate leader Eli Yishai expressed optimism, however, that his party would help form the new government. He pointed to the thin majority a Likud Beytenu-Yesh Atid- Bayit Yehudi coalition would command without Shas, saying that such a government would not last long.

“Let’s be done with the campaigning and spin, and form a stable government,” Yishai said. “For sure it will be complicated, but we need to all sit down together, without exception, and discuss what’s good for the Jewish people and for the State of Israel.”

On Tuesday night, Yishai said that if Lapid “wants to be realistic, he needs to work together with us, otherwise there’ll be no stability.”

One of the major stumbling blocks to including both Yesh Atid and Shas in the new government will be the demand of Lapid’s party to implement its proposal for drafting haredi men into national service.

Yesh Atid’s plan calls for all 18- year-old men to enlist in some form of national service, after a five-year interim period that will be used to prepare the army for an influx of ultra-Orthodox recruits. Shas is unlikely to agree to such a proposal, although the party leadership did exhibit greater than expected flexibility for increasing the haredi draft during negotiations on the issue during the Knesset’s summer session.

Arye Deri, another member of the Shas leadership troika, said on Israel Radio, however, that a compromise could be reached on this issue.

“I spoke with the prime minister last night and we’ll be meeting in the coming days. Regarding haredi enlistment, nothing can be done through coercion. With goodwill a compromise can be reached and the burden [national service] can be more evenly spread, and I’m even in favor of this,” Deri said.

Jpost.com staff contributed to this report
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