80 MK-elects to recommend Netanyahu as PM

PM hopes to finish building gov't in time for potential meeting with Obama in March; Lapid, Bennett meet to form strategy for talks.

Netanyahu in Knesset alone 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Netanyahu in Knesset alone 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will receive an endorsement from 80 MK-elects over the next two days as the 12 factions in the incoming Knesset make their recommendations to President Shimon Peres.
Peres will receive the official results of last Tuesday’s election on Wednesday evening from the head of the Central Elections Committee, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein. The president will receive delegations on Wednesday night from the two largest Knesset factions, Likud Beytenu and Yesh Atid. He will hold consultations with the remaining 10 factions from the largest to the smallest on Thursday and most likely formally grant Netanyahu the right to form the government on Friday.
Netanyahu will receive recommendations from Yesh Atid and the four factions on the Right.
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and the party’s incoming MKs Mickey Levy and Pnina Tamnu-Shata intend to tell Peres that they endorse Netanyahu because they believe the largest party should form the government.
Labor (15 seats) and The Tzipi Livni Party (6) are not expected to recommend any candidate, but a source tied to Livni said there was a small chance that she would recommend herself, in order to keep her promise that she would recommend the leader of one of the parties in the Center-Left bloc.
From the moment that Peres entrusts Netanyahu with forming a coalition, he will have 28 days to form a new government.
If an extension is required, the president has the authority to grant an additional 14 days.
Netanyahu received an extension when he formed his last coalition four years ago. But this time, the prime minister has added incentive to complete coalition talks on time and present his government to Peres by February 28.
Three days after that, the national policy conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee will begin in Washington. Netanyahu has not confirmed his participation in the event due to the coalition talks. But if the negotiations run smoothly and Netanyahu forms a coalition on time, he will be able to attend the conference and meet with US President Barack Obama in Washington with a new government behind him.
“Any prime minister wants to finish coalition negotiations within a week,” a senior Likud politician close to Netanyahu said. “There will be ups and downs. Many parties want to be in the coalition, but that does not make them more flexible.”
Lapid met with Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett on Tuesday for the first time since the election to coordinate their strategy for the talks. Spokeswomen for the two party leaders refused to disclose any details of the meeting or even confirm that it took place.
Bayit Yehudi faction chairman Uri Orbach said following a meeting of his party’s MK-elects in Ariel that Netanyahu could not take his party for granted.
“We are not a faction of three MKs that would be satisfied with just the Science and Technology Ministry like last time,” Orbach said. “We are not joining at any price without conditions.”
Shas and United Torah Judaism leaders also met on Tuesday to discuss their strategy for coalition negotiations.
UTJ MK Yisrael Eichler’s office said that serious efforts were under way with Shas “to form a political bloc against the attempts to draft yeshiva students,” adding that the two parties were also trying to enlist the support of Bayit Yehudi toward this goal.
Another party official said that although the two parties would be negotiating separately within the official coalition negotiations, they may appoint a joint team to discuss the issue of haredi enlistment. He added that the party sees very little possibility of sitting together with Yesh Atid.
“It is in Netanyahu’s hands, but if Lapid wants to drag yeshiva students out of the study hall then we wont be able to join a coalition with him,” he said, highlighting what he called the haredi parties’ political value to the prime minister as reliable coalition partners during the last government.
Senior UTJ MK Moshe Gafni pointed out on Tuesday that the combined haredi representation in the new Knesset – 18 MKs – is very close to Yesh Atid’s 19, and party sources expressed optimism that Netanyahu may form a coalition without Lapid’s party.
Following reports that Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud) met recently with Gafni, one UTJ official said that Ya’alon’s proposal for increasing haredi enlistment in national service, made last year, was something the party could live with.
Outgoing coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) said he already received an impression before the 18th Knesset was dissolved that UTJ would accept the Ya’alon plan as a last resort, even though it did not like it.
A Shas source noted that his party was able to make more concessions than UTJ on the issue of enlistment, whose “red lines are closer and more stringent than ours.”
Nevertheless, he said, the purpose of the recent leadership meetings was “to coordinate positions” on the issue ahead of the negotiations.
Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.