Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu negotiation teams are holding marathon talks Saturday night with representatives of Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi in a last push to complete the coalition negotiations.
Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi representatives arrived at the meeting to hash out the allocation of ministerial portfolios, drafting a law that would lead to a more equal 'sharing of the burden' of military service and the labor market on the part of ultra-Orthodox Israelis, as well as, defining the new government's guidelines.
The parties in coalition talks made major progress on Saturday, with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid the likely finance minister and Habayit Hayehudi chief Naftali Bennett the likely minister of industry, trade and labor.
The accelerated pace of talks was made possible after Lapid announced Friday he was dropping his demand to be foreign minister.
As a result, the informal Yesh Atid-Habayit Hayehudi alliance will only receive one senior ministerial portfolio, not the two it had demanded.
Bennett is also on tap to be public diplomacy minister. Bennett's party will also have another three ministers, with Uri Ariel expected to be housing and construction minister, Uri Orbach Jerusalem and diaspora affairs minister and Eli Ben-Dahan religious services minister.
The negotiations between Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu and Yesh Atid have not yet concluded. By press time, Yesh Atid was expected to receive six ministries.
Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz might receive a ministry at Yesh Atid's expense. Kadima had not taken part in the talks because Kadima's two Knesset seats had kept it under the formula of a ministry for every three Knesset seats. If Mofaz becomes a minister at Yesh Atid's expense, it would strengthen ties between Yesh Atid and Kadima, political sources said. Kadima could even be absorbed into Lapid's party.
The main dispute on Saturday was over which party would receive the Education Ministry. Lapid had intended to appoint his party's No. 2 Shai Piron to the position. But in recent weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has fought to keep current Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar at the post.
"Netanyahu understands that if the education portfolio goes to Yesh Atid, the ultra-Orthodox will feel that Netanyahu is not only betraying their alliance but is trying to eliminate Torah-based education," said a senior Likud party source. "If Yesh Atid is atop the Education Ministry, it will crush the Haredi educational system."
Yesh Atid sources said that if Piron does not receive the Education Ministry, he is expected to be in the running for the social affairs portfolio. Party sources also predicted that MKs Jacob Perry, Yael German and Meir Cohen would be ministers in the next government.
During the election campaign, Lapid made two promises that he has apparently failed to achieve during the coalition negotiations. The first was that Netanyahu's third government would have no more than 18 ministers. Last night it appeared that the next coalition would consist of 25 ministers, including Yisrael Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman, who could join the government if he avoids a conviction in his corruption trial. This would be just four fewer ministers than in the outgoing Netanyahu government.
Lapid's second promise involved getting more ultra-Orthodox Jewish men into the army. The plan outlined by Lapid was expected to be accepted by Netanyahu after the coalition talks, but with two dramatic changes.
The first change would be a draft age for ultra-Orthodox men of 22 instead of 18. The second would be an annual draft exemption for around 2,000 Haredi yeshiva students, instead of an exemption for 400 students as originally proposed.
"Two thousand draft exemptions per year would mean 20,000 draft exemptions in a decade," a political source said. "This is an astronomical number that is impossible to justify. The decision to set a draft age of 22 is also scandalous since a majority of Haredi men are married and have children at this age. They will be an economic burden and the IDF has no use for them."
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