Lapid and Bennett at Knesset swear in 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that coalition talks were almost over, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett delayed signing final agreements Thursday.
Likud asked to meet with the two parties' negotiating teams to notify them that, contrary to agreements reached in previous talks, Netanyahu no longer wants to appoint any deputies. The negotiators refused to meet on the issue.
Bayit Yehudi and Yesh Atid sources said that their party leaders had been promised Vice Premier positions, and that it is important to them that Netanyahu keep his word so they can trust him.
"We won't play this game of last-minute tricks," a source close to Bennett said, adding that the party heard about the prime minister's change of heart on the radio before anyone from the Likud notified the Bayit Yehudi.
Still, Likud Beytenu negotiator Moshe Leon told Channel 2 News Thursday night that he's confident that an agreement will be signed Friday.
"We've been talking about the issues for six weeks, and this topic [of Vice Premiers] only came up once. When it's time to sign, they can't just complain about this," he said.
Earlier Thursday, at a Likud Beytenu faction meeting, Netanyahu said the job of building a coalition was nearly complete, and that the party got the most important portfolios – the Foreign and Defense Ministries.
"These are the most important ministries, the areas of responsibility that let us manage the country," he stated.
Netanyahu also pointed to his party's majority in the government, without which, he said, its ministers could not promote its policies.
"The upcoming term will be one of the most difficult ever," he explained. "There are a number of challenges that are not getting enough public attention."
The prime minister also called on Lapid to pass a responsible budget that will protect the economy in the face of international turmoil, and said he will give the new Finance Minister all the support he needs.
"I am sure we will do all we need with in security, diplomatic and economic areas to bring good news to the State of Israel," he concluded.
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman added a bit of humor to the meeting, joking about "white smoke not only in the Vatican, but in Jerusalem, too."
"There has been a lot of commentary in the media about political dealings. I hope we're finished with this chapter, and next week the commentary will be about our work, not that," he said.