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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
As negotiations to build Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu's government intensified on Thursday, The Jerusalem Post received information from a well-placed political source confirming long-standing speculation that Shas made a deal with Netanyahu to prevent Kadima leader Tzipi Livni from forming a coalition in October.
In return for forcing the February 10 election, Netanyahu promised Shas chairman Eli Yishai the Interior Ministry and NIS 2 billion worth of allocations for his party's pet causes, according to the source.
A Shas spokesman denied the report, saying his party would be overjoyed if it were given even NIS 1.5b.
In all, the financial demands being raised by the five parties expected to join a Likud-led coalition add up to almost NIS 10b., according to a source close to the negotiations.
Netanyahu and Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman met Thursday night at the Knesset and, contrary to expectations beforehand, did not discuss the portfolios Israel Beiteinu would receive.
Lieberman had been expected to request the Foreign Ministry for himself; the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry for his No. 2, MK Uzi Landau; the Justice portfolio to remain in the hands of Daniel Friedmann, who is not a member of any party, and the Communications Ministry for MK Stas Meseznikov.
"Portfolios will not be an obstacle to forming a stable government," according to a joint statement released after the meeting.
On Friday, Israel Beiteinu denied demanding that Freidmann be kept in his post.
"It was not Israel Beiteinu that turned the Daniel Freidmann issue into something personal and formal, but it was actually MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) who is ruling out Freidmann on behalf of someone else who is interested in the portfolio," claimed chief Israel Beiteinu negotiator MK Stas Meseznikov to Army Radio. "[In any case,] any name that [Israel Beiteinu head Avigdor] Lieberman would have put forward would have been viewed as being done so for shady reasons due to Lieberman's image. Yvette simply draws fire."
Meanwhile, a political source revealed that American philanthropist Ronald Lauder, one of the owners of Channel 10 and a confidant of Netanyahu, has pressured the Likud leader not to let the Communications Ministry come under the control of Lieberman's party.
Netanyahu's associates said he hoped Lieberman would agree to accept the Finance portfolio and allow Netanyahu to pacify his Likud nemesis, MK Silvan Shalom, by having him return to the Foreign Ministry.
If Shalom is not given the Foreign Ministry, he could seek the Treasury or the Defense portfolio.
Shalom met with key supporters in the Likud on Thursday, and they urged him to let them host a rally in support of him at the beginning of next week.
Shalom has reportedly threatened to not support the next government if he is not given a satisfactory portfolio. Such a threat would be magnified if the National Union does not end up joining the coalition, leaving Netanyahu with a razor-thin majority of 61-59 over the opposition.
The National Union is demanding the legalization of several unauthorized West Bank outposts, and the extension of services to them, as part of its price for joining the coalition.
National Union leader Ya'akov Katz has also asked for the Construction and Housing portfolio, which he would control as a deputy minister, but the Likud told him it had already been promised to Yishai's No. 2, Ariel Attias.
Earlier, the Likud's coalition negotiating team met with representatives of Israel Beiteinu and Shas for three hours each at Ramat Gan's Kfar Hamaccabiah Hotel and began drafting coalition agreements with the parties.
MKs from all three parties said after the meetings that progress was made but that only next week would they discuss the two most sensitive issues: portfolios for ministers and civil unions for couples seeking to be legally recognized without a religious ceremony in order to receive governmental benefits.
The topics in the coalition deal with Israel Beiteinu that were drafted Thursday included the fight against terrorism, assistance for immigrants, and electoral reforms that would make it harder for the Knesset to topple a prime minister.
"We all know that our current system cannot go on if we want stability," Meseznikov said.
Yishai said the economic sections of his party's coalition deal were drafted on Thursday, including those concerning unemployment and increasing child welfare allotments.
"We are close to an agreement," Yishai said after the meeting. "I am confident that we can finalize a deal by next week."
The head of the Likud's negotiating team, MK Gideon Sa'ar, also said he was optimistic that the coalition talks were nearing a conclusion.
"Significant progress was made in both meetings, and I'm optimistic about our ability to finish quickly," Sa'ar said as he left the hotel.