NU, Likud hold coalition talks; deal with Lieberman not yet reached; Netanyahu may ask for extension.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN, JPOST.COM STAFFPublished: MARCH 13, 2009 00:28Advertisement
Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann issued a statement Friday congratulating Prof. Yaacov Ne'eman on his appointment as the new government's justice minister.
"It is an excellent choice of one of Israel's top lawyers who is also a man with rich academic background and public experience," the statement reads.
Friedmann wrote also that he was "convinced that Yaacov Ne'eman will work to stabilize the system of government and the relations between its branches, as well as act to improve the performance of courts and strengthen the rule of law in its real sense."
Also on Friday, National Union representatives met with Likud negotiators to discuss a coalition agreement between the parties.
NU leader Ya'akov Katz said his party would receive the Housing portfolio, while Habayit Hayehudi would be given the Education portfolio.
Shas sources were quoted by Israel Radio as saying that if the party does not receive the Housing portfolio it would examine other options. The sources claimed Shas was promised the portfolio by Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu.
But despite movement on coalition talks, Netanyahu is considering asking President Shimon Peres for a two-week extension, since the Likud and Israel Beiteinu negotiating teams failed to reach an agreement after eight hours of talks on Thursday.
Netanyahu has until next Friday to form a government without the extension.
However, as Knesset plenum will not convene on a Friday, even to swear in ministers, and coalition agreements must be submitted 24 hours before a vote, deals must be reached with all five prospective coalition partners by Wednesday.
"We can always get a two-week extension," a source close to Netanyahu said. "If he wants to take extra time, it's not a problem. We want to get down to the business of governing, but building a coalition is a complicated process."
A member of the Likud's coalition negotiating team expressed optimism that deals would be reached with Israel Beiteinu and Shas at the beginning of next week, but he acknowledged that the remaining three parties could cause problems.
"If the other parties go crazy, then we would need more time," the negotiating team member said, referring to United Torah Judaism, Habayit Hayehudi and perhaps the National Union.
Netanyahu's current plan is to form a coalition of 61 MKs, without the National Union, next week, unless significant progress is made in talks with the party on Friday or Labor chairman Ehud Barak reconsiders his decision not to join the next government.
Barak and Netanyahu met alone at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Thursday following a meeting with the IDF General Staff, and discussed politics.
The meeting came a day after it became clear that Friedmann would not remain justice minister, which was Labor's main demand for joining Netanyahu's government.
A Barak adviser said he would check with the MKs in his faction about whether Friedmann's expected replacement by Ne'eman changed their minds about remaining in the opposition.
"Barak will check whether there is room for starting talks with Likud," the adviser said. "Unlike Friedmann, Barak has no problem with Ne'eman. Bibi hasn't closed the door on Labor joining the government."
But other Barak advisers and Netanyahu's associates said the Likud leader had not made a new offer to Barak in their meeting and it was extremely unlikely that coalition talks would begin between the Likud and Labor.
Labor MKs opposed to joining the government warned that if Barak renewed efforts to take the party into the coalition, they would restart their efforts to topple him.
MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) issued a statement saying that even without Friedmann, Netanyahu's government would be antagonistic to the legal establishment.
"This is not a Netanyahu government, but Lieberman's government," Paz-Pines said. "His ridiculous appointment as foreign minister will cause diplomatic damage that will take years to fix."
In coalition talks between Likud and Israel Beiteinu on Thursday at Ramat Gan's Kfar Hamaccabiah Hotel, Israel Beiteinu issued several new demands, including full control over Israel's diplomatic relations and ambassadorial appointments.
A Likud official said the party would not accept that demand.
One Israel Beiteinu demand the Likud did accept was that the party be given an additional ministry instead of the Justice portfolio, because Neeman would not be counted as a minister from the party.
Israel Beiteinu will be given the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, which is expected to go to MK Sofa Landver.
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