Coalition negotiations are proving to be a great challenge, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a Likud faction meeting Tuesday, the day of the Knesset’s inauguration.
“We’re in the middle of forming [the government],” Netanyahu said. “It’s not a simple job and there are different aspects – giving out portfolios, control over the state budget and many other challenges.”
Netanyahu expressed hope that the government will be formed by the May 15 deadline, but said he may have to ask for an extension. The absolute final deadline, by law, for Netanyahu to form a coalition is May 29. No coalition negotiations took place on Tuesday.
The prime minister told Likud MKs they should begin work in the Knesset even before there is a coalition and said he will meet with all 34 of them in the coming days. He also told them not to rush to make vacation plans for August, because they’ll likely face a “legislative blitz” in the month that the Knesset is usually closed.
“We’re working hard on the [haredi] enlistment law,” Netanyahu said, referring to a compromise Likud’s negotiating team is preparing to resolve one of the major sticking points of the coalition talks.
Netanyahu’s remarks came after a report in Israel Hayom in which he lamented his coalition potential partners are making outlandish demands.
The prime minister also said this would not necessarily be his last term in office.
“It’s the decision of the nation and, of course, as long as the public wants me to continue serving it, and as long as I can, I will continue to serve it,” he responded to a question from Channel 12 reporters in the Knesset’s halls.
Netanyahu dodged a further question about whether he would support bills giving him immunity from criminal proceedings while he is in office.
Earlier Tuesday, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman warned that there are “a lot of land mines” in the coalition talks, specifically in disagreements between his party and the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, whose aims are mostly supported by the religious-Zionist Union of Right-Wing Parties.
“On religion and state, I want to make it clear,” Liberman said. “We are for a Jewish state and we are against a halachic state,” meaning, a state governed by Jewish religious law.
As for haredi enlistment in the IDF, Liberman reiterated his demand that the bill he proposed in his capacity as defense minister, which passed a first reading in the Knesset last year, be supported unchanged by any coalition he would join. He said Shas and UTJ “can live with” the bill.
“I know the religious parties have 22 seats and we have five... To take advantage of the situation in the Knesset for forceful, unilateral action is not acceptable,” Liberman added.
The Yisrael Beytenu chairman also said he opposes the use of DNA tests to determine Jewish status, which he called “an invasive, dramatic tool that rabbinic courts cannot use, with all due respect.”
Shas and UTJ “want to harm the status quo. We want to keep the status quo” on religion and state, Liberman insisted.
“As long as we don’t have agreements on matters of principle, we will not negotiate about portfolios,” he added.
In Kulanu’s faction meeting, party leader Moshe Kahlon denied that his party is going to merge with Likud.
“Kulanu is independent and will continue to be independent. Don’t pay attention to the headlines,” he said.
Though the party dropped to four seats from 10, Kahlon said the election results were a “great success” and Kulanu is “alive and kicking.”
Kahlon called news about coalition talks “spin and fake news,” and said he has been negotiating directly with Netanyahu about important topics. He added that he is waiting to see what happens with other parties.
Meanwhile, Blue and White had its first faction meeting, with co-leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid playing the good cop and bad cop, respectively.
Gantz relayed a unifying message, quoting from this week’s Torah portion (Lev. 19:17-18): “Do not hate your brother in your heart... Do not hold a grudge.”
He said the party has an important role in the opposition, and they will defend the rule of law. “We will support what is right and firmly oppose what must be opposed.”
Lapid, however, accused Netanyahu of “systematically tearing the nation apart.”
“That’s how he makes his living,” Lapid said. “The person who was elected on a campaign of incitement and division can spare us all the call for fake unity."
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