Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was expected to convene on Thursday senior member of his Likud party to discuss advancing the ongoing coalition talks. Netanyahu has been holding such meetings every few days, in an effort to push forward the stalled talks with various other parties.
One Likud MK said on Thursday that “Netanyahu will have to take meaningful decisions regarding ministerial appointment at the beginning of next week, or else the negotiations won’t go anywhere.”
The far-reaching demands of the Kulanu and Habayit Hayehudi parties are the issue at hand, and sources in Likud say that neither is currently prepared to be more flexible due to their assessment that Netanyahu cannot build a coalition without them.
On Wednesday, Likud negotiation team member and Netanyahu confidant attorney David Shimron sent a clear warning: “If any of the factions raise difficulties beyond what is expected, we will have to check the alternatives,” he said at the opening of a meeting with Yisrael Beiteinu representatives, and hinted that Likud may in the future also turn to the Zionist Union.
This is not the first time in which public messages of this type have been made, but it appears that for now, these are empty threats. Likud does not intend to turn to the Zionist Union at the present stage and prefers to see the negotiations through with right-wing parties before taking another route.
Meanwhile, the negotiations with United Torah Judaism, Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu are near completion. Sources involved in the talks note that hardly any fundamental areas of disagreement remain and the effort now is in the wording of various clauses that will form part of the coalition agreement.
On Tuesday Netanyahu met with Shas chairman Arye Dery in an attempt to advance the negotiations. Sources involved in the discussion between the two said that the meeting was positive, but the sides had yet to reach a final agreement. The Likud and Shas negotiating teams are due to meet again on Monday.
Even if the wording of the agreements with the Haredi parties and Yisrael Beiteinu is finalized, it is still unclear whether Netanyahu will prefer to sign them before reaching understandings with Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, who is designated to become finance minister in the new government. Estimates are that Kahlon’s demands for ministerial portfolios in the coalition negotiations will not derail the finalizing of an agreement with him, and he is ultimately likely to receive the finance, housing and environmental protection ministries that he demanded.
Beyond the issue of the ministerial postings handed to Habayit Hayehudi, Kulanu and Yisrael Beiteinu, several disagreements between the various parties are making the finalizing of a coalition agreement difficult. For example, great rifts have appeared over reforming the Jewish conversion process between Habayit Hayehudi, United Torah Judaism and Yisrael Beiteinu. Likud is taking no stance on the issue.
Meanwhile, the ruling party has yet to decide how to tackle the similar demands for the Israel Lands Authority and planning administrationy (by Kulanu and Shas), the Foreign Ministry (Habayit Hayehudi and Yisrael Beiteinu), and the Religious Affairs Ministry (Shas and Habayit Hayehudi). The issue of who heads the powerful Knesset Finance Committee has also not yet been finally solved, but sources in Likud estimated that Kahlon will eventually compromise and agree that MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) will head the committee.
For now, the coalition negotiations are proceeding slowly. Negotiating team members from Habayit Hayehudi and Kulanu say the same thing: That the ball is in Netanyahu’s court.
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A member of one party’s negotiating team noted: “We have passed on most of our demands, and the Likud negotiating team told us that they’ll get back to us soon with an answer. We’re waiting.”