PM preempts Peres by building broad coalition

Netanyahu, Lapid seek compromise deal to enable Bayit Yehudi, Shas, Livni and Kadima to join government.

Netanyahu in Knesset alone 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Netanyahu in Knesset alone 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke to the heads of all the Zionist parties in the Knesset over the past two days and invited them to coalition talks on the formation of the widest possible government.
Netanyahu hopes to form a coalition of at least 80 MKs to ensure that none of the parties in the coalition could topple him by leaving, including the 19-MK Yesh Atid faction.
Netanyahu and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid are expected to compromise on which parties will be included in the coalition.
Lapid and Netanyahu agree on including Bayit Yehudi and Kadima, but differ on the rest of the coalition. Netanyahu wants Shas and United Torah Judaism while Lapid prefers The Tzipi Livni Party.
Netanyahu is expected to give in on Livni being included and UTJ excluded, while Lapid will most likely agree to the inclusion of Shas. Those compromises would lead to the formation of an 81-MK coalition of Likud Beytenu, Yesh Atid, Bayit Yehudi, Shas, Kadima, and The Tzipi Livni Party.
The prime minister’s preliminary talks with the parties are intended to preempt their meetings with President Shimon Peres next week.
Netanyahu wants to have a coalition in hand on paper before the parties make their recommendations to Peres on whom he should designate to form the next government.
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Netanyahu will then send his lawyers to meet with party representatives and draw up coalition agreements, with a goal of completing the formation of his new government by the time he leaves for Washington in the first week of March.
Speaking at a special plenary dedicated to the Middle East at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday, Peres said he would be unable to provide headlines on the election.
“We welcome the elections in Israel. At the moment we cannot guess which way the new government will face and who will be in it. We must wait patiently until Wednesday when the official results will be published,” he said. “Afterwards, according to the law, I will consult with all the elected groups in the Knesset. Until then I won’t be able to comment further on the matter.”
In an effort to build the kind of partnership needed for a stable government, Netanyahu met Thursday at his official residence in Jerusalem with Lapid.
In the meeting, they made a point of discussing policy issues, not portfolios.
“The prime minister and Mr. Lapid discussed the challenges facing the nation and ways to deal with them,” the two men said in a joint statement. “The meeting, which lasted two-anda- half-hours, was held in a very good atmosphere, and it was agreed that they would meet again soon.”
While Netanyahu already called Lapid, Shas and UTJ leaders on the night of the election and Livni on Wednesday, he waited until Thursday to call Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett. Sources in Bayit Yehudi said they received an impression that the prime minister was trying to lower Bennett’s asking price for joining the coalition.
Mofaz told the prime minister that he had a rare opportunity to form a centrist government.
Netanyahu invited Labor and Meretz to meet with him, even though he knew they would not agree to enter his coalition.
“My faction will be a sharp and difficult opposition to you,” Labor Party chairwoman Yacimovich said she told Netanyahu. “He knows better than others how deep the chasm is between our parties on socioeconomic issues. I won’t contribute to the collapse of Israeli society [in exchange] for seats in the coalition.”
Netanyahu intends to form a smaller cabinet than in his last government, at Lapid’s request.
Netanyahu has told Likud ministers that they will not all return in his next government.
While Yesh Atid has refused to discuss portfolios, Netanyahu appears to want Lapid as his foreign minister, and not former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman.
One likely scenario is that Liberman would be told he could become finance minister if he overcomes his legal problems, which caused him to resign from the cabinet in December.
In radio interviews, Liberman tried to push Lapid to accept a socioeconomic portfolio such as Finance rather than seek the Foreign Ministry.
“Someone who spoke all the time about the middle class, socioeconomic problems and rising prices should not choose to deal with the middle class in Greece or Portugal,” Liberman said.
Also on Thursday, PLO Secretary- General Yasser Abed Rabbo said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas intends to invite MKs from centrist and left-wing parties to meet with him in Ramallah.
Ynet reported that the PA plans first and foremost to invite Lapid, but also lawmakers from Labor, Meretz and the Likud.
MKs from Bayit Yehudi will not be invited to meet with Abbas, the website reported.