Lapid, Bennett's Vice Premier titles stall coalition

Bayit Yehudi, Yesh Atid say PM must learn to keep his word; Netanyahu: Upcoming term to be one of the most difficult ever.

Lapid and Bennett at Knesset swear in 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
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 head Naftali Bennett delayed signing final agreements on Thursday.
Likud Beytenu 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 was important to them that Netanyahu keep his word so they could trust him.
“We won’t play this game of lastminute 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 Likud Beytenu notified Bayit Yehudi.
Still, Likud Beytenu negotiator Moshe Leon told Channel 2 News on Thursday night that he’s confident that an agreement would be signed on 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 on 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 – foreign and defense.
“These are the most important ministries, the areas of responsibility that let us manage the country,” he said.
Netanyahu also pointed to his party’s majority in the cabinet, 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 would protect the economy in the face of international turmoil, and said he would give the new finance minister all the support he needed.
“I am sure we will do all we need within security, diplomatic and economic areas to bring good news to the State of Israel,” he concluded.
Yisrael Beytenu chairman 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.