Netanyahu at Western Wall.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israel will have a new government in place in time for Independence Day celebrations, sources close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday.
Despite exit polls indicating a close race Tuesday night, Netanyahu won a sweeping victory, beating the Zionist Union by at least five seats, 29 to 24. The Likud may receive another seat Thursday after the counting of soldiers’ absentee ballots is complete.
With an unquestionable victory, Netanyahu is not expected to come under pressure to change his mind about forming a right-wing nationalist coalition with Kulanu, Bayit Yehudi, Yisrael Beytenu, Shas and United Torah Judaism, rather than a national-unity government with the Zionist Union.
President Reuven Rivlin is to begin consultations with the elected parties Sunday, with the goal of appointing Netanyahu to form a government after official results come in next Wednesday.
Netanyahu is to have then four weeks to form a government, ending April 22, the eve of Independence Day. He can ask Rivlin for a two-week extension, but sources close to him said he did not want to do so, because following his victory, he was in a position of strength.
In an official statement, the Likud said Netanyahu intended to form a government as soon as possible.
“Reality will not wait for us,” the statement said. “Reality does not take time out. The people of Israel expect us to quickly build a leadership team that will work for them on security and socioeconomic issues as we promised.”
The only portfolios that are already definite are Finance for Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon keeping his post. Yuli Edelstein is expected to remain Knesset speaker, though he has not yet discussed it with Netanyahu.
Speculation began Wednesday about other portfolios. Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman both want a senior portfolio. However, the Foreign Ministry could also go to a top Likud MK, such as Gilad Erdan, who is second on the party’s list.
Alternatively Erdan could receive the Justice portfolio. The Likud’s Yuval Steinitz has been discussed for the Education portfolio.
Shas leader Arye Deri wants to return to his former job of interior minister, and United Torah Judaism leader Ya’acov Litzman wants to return to his former post of deputy health minister without a minister over him.
Yisrael Beytenu is expected to seek the Welfare and Social Services portfolio for MK Orly Levy-Abecassis, and Bayit Yehudi looks to push for MK Ayelet Shaked to become public security minister.
Liberman stated that it could not be taken for granted that his party would join the coalition.
Meanwhile, Kahlon said he needed to “make sure the people get what they voted for.”
For his coalition consultations, Rivlin intends to start with the smaller parties, leaving the Joint (Arab) List, the Zionist Union and the Likud for last.
Although Rivlin has said he will insist that every party make a recommendation regarding who should form a coalition, it is not certain that he can force the issue. In past years, there were party delegations that came to the president and discussed the matters that bothered them, but refused to nominate a candidate.
At least one party has already announced its intention not to recommend anyone, and another party has said it is wavering between recommending and not recommending.
Rivlin stated several times during the campaign that a government must be in place as quickly as possible.
Although it seems that Netanyahu will be installed in office for the fourth time, Rivlin is not bound by law to task him with forming a government.
He can choose any member of Knesset whom he deems capable, and if that person agrees, he or she will have the chance to put together a coalition.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu went to the Western Wall in his first post-election public appearance after his victory.
“Here, in this place, I am awed by the historical significance of a people renewing itself in its homeland after 4,000 years,” he said after praying at the wall and placing a note in one of its crevices. “I am moved by the weight of responsibility that the people of Israel have placed on my shoulders, and appreciate the decision of Israeli citizens to choose me and my colleagues against all odds.”Greer Fay Cashman and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.