Coalition negotiations hit a dead end on Sunday night, with Likud Beytenu and
Yesh Atid stuck on issues that proved difficult for them in previous talks –
equality in the burden of national service and the number of ministers in the
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Yesh Atid chairman
Yair Lapid, Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett and former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman met at the Prime Minister’s
Office on Sunday night meant to resolve the
remaining problems before a coalition is sworn in.
The two-hour meeting came to an end just before midnight on Sunday, although the parties' negotiating teams continued talks to formulate the final coalition agreement that went until 4 am. The PM, Bennett and Lapid were set to meet on Monday for a midday meeting.
While Lapid no longer
insists on an 18-minister cabinet, he opposes a Likud Beytenu proposal for 26
In addition, Yesh Atid and Likud Beytenu disagree on the
wording of a bill requiring all citizens to enlist in the army, or perform
national service, which will be brought to a vote shortly after the government
Bennett is serving as middleman between Netanyahu and Lapid,
after repairing his relationship with the prime minister.
with Lapid stands strong. According to a Bayit Yehudi source, Bennett convinced
Lapid to give up on his demand for the Foreign Ministry, which is being saved
for MK Avigdor Liberman, and to take the Finance Ministry – even though Bennett
wanted it for himself – for the sake of reaching a coalition deal.
coalition with more ministers would relieve some of the pressure on Netanyahu
from within the Likud. Current Likud ministers will not be promoted to more
prestigious positions, and it is unlikely that there will be new ministers in
the party, even though some of its newer MKs received many more primary votes
than did veterans.
Despite the disagreements, Bayit Yehudi showed clear
signs of optimism that the coalition would be formed in the coming days, setting
a central committee meeting for Wednesday evening. The Bayit Yehudi central
committee is required to authorize any coalition agreement the party
The central committee meeting is an indication that Netanyahu
plans to present his government to President Shimon Peres and the Knesset on
Tuesday or Wednesday, and that the ministers will be officially sworn in on
Liberman said as much at a press conference in Dimona on
“I figure that by Tuesday everything will be closed,” he said in
reference to coalition talks. “Maybe we need another day to have understandings
in advance and prevent friction in the future.”
At this point, Liberman
added, the negotiating process is at its height and irreversible, but people
attempt to make gains at the last minute.
The former foreign minister,
who will return to the ministry if he is exonerated in his corruption trial,
said he saw no problem with Netanyahu saving his spot, since former prime
ministers David Ben- Gurion and Ehud Barak served entire terms while also acting
as defense minister.
Meanwhile, as it seems highly likely that Bennett
will serve as public diplomacy minister in addition to holding the Industry,
Trade and Labor portfolio, Likud sources expressed concern that he may become a
de facto foreign minister.
A Likud source explained that Netanyahu is
unlikely to be an active foreign minister, and Bennett will be able to jump on
the first opportunity to take on the trappings of the job, for example
involvement in US President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel less than a week
after the coalition is expected to be sworn in.
While many of the senior
positions in the government seem to be distributed already, there are a few
ministries with unclear futures.
One, for example, is the Education
Ministry, which Likud Beytenu wants to hold on to for current Education Minister
Gideon Sa’ar to serve another term. Yesh Atid, however, is insisting on getting
the post, as education was among the central issues in its campaign. The party
hopes to give the ministry to MK Shai Piron, second on Yesh Atid’s
Likud Beytenu expects Yesh Atid to give up the Education Ministry,
since it achieved much of what it wanted in coalition talks – a government
without haredi parties, a senior portfolio, a reduction in the number of
ministries – although it is still demanding the portfolio.
Education Ministry goes to Yesh Atid, Sa’ar will receive another ministry at the
same level of prestige, such as the Interior Ministry.
If that goes to
Sa’ar, Piron is likely to become welfare and social services minister.