Coalition talks go down to the wire as Bayit Yehudi demands Justice Ministry

Faction leader Naftali Bennett's demand comes ahead of Wednesday's midnight deadline to form a new government.

Naftali Bennett at a Bayit Yehudi convention at Tel Aviv University, September 10, 2014. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Naftali Bennett at a Bayit Yehudi convention at Tel Aviv University, September 10, 2014.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s effort to form a new governing coalition reached the final day permitted by law on Wednesday, after talks with Bayit Yehudi continued into the late hours of Tuesday night.
According to the law, if Netanyahu does not form a government by midnight on Wednesday, President Reuven Rivlin will be required to call upon another MK to form a government or initiate a general election. Rivlin could ask Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog or an MK in the Likud.
The prime minister has deals set with Kulanu, United Torah Judaism and Shas, which together with the Likud’s 30 lawmakers, give him 53 MKs. He only needs the eight MKs of Bayit Yehudi to reach the blocking majority of 61 required to form a coalition.
But Bayit Yehudi played hard to get on Tuesday, purposely not returning repeated calls and messages from Netanyahu’s associates. Leader Naftali Bennett’s associates said during the day that he would only speak to Netanyahu directly to reach a deal.
By evening, the Bayit Yehudi chairman agreed to send his political adviser Shalom Shlomo to meet with the prime minister’s lawyer David Shimron to work out the details of a coalition agreement. Bennett and Netanyahu are expected to meet to finalize the deal on Wednesday.
A Bayit Yehudi spokesman would not confirm reports that the party’s demands included the Foreign Ministry for Bennett, the Justice portfolio for MK Ayelet Shaked and the Education Ministry for current Construction Minister Uri Ariel.
The Likud released a statement on Tuesday denying that Netanyahu’s associates had mocked the offer or attacked Bennett.
“Throughout the day there were various quotes attributed to sources close to the prime minister,” the statement said.
“We want to clarify that no statement or briefing came from the party or the prime minister.”
Among the quotes attributed was: “The Right will never forgive Bennett if he prevents the formation of a right-wing government because he craved portfolios.”
A Likud source was quoted as reacting to Bayit Yehudi’s demands by saying that they “did not know whether to laugh or cry.” Another source said that “at best, Bennett will be given the Public Diplomacy portfolio and a couple more deputy ministers.”
Likud MKs Tzipi Hotovely and Miri Regev both attacked Bennett publicly, calling on him to ease his demands and join the government immediately.
“Bennett must be held responsible to his voters who want a right-wing government and not another election,” Hotovely said. “With what his party has been offered already, he cannot claim to have been slighted. He should sign a deal now and enable the Right to continue to rule.”
Rivlin told a visiting delegation that he expects Netanyahu to build a coalition of 61 MKs and expand it later.
“The prime minister is making all the efforts,” he said. “I suppose that afterward they will try to find a way to extend the coalition, but in Israel there is never a dull moment.”