No Progress Reported as Netanyahu Meets With Bennett, Lieberman

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Naftali Bennett, leader of Habayit Hayehudi, at a right-wing rally in Rabin Square on March 15, 2015. Bennett is a key potential partner for Benjamin Netanyahu as he tries to build a coalition.Credit: Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Friday with two of his potential coalition partners in an attempt to advance the flagging coalition negotiations.

No details were released of the separate meetings Netanyahu held with Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, though sources involved in the meetings said that the atmosphere in both had been good.

The meeting with Bennett was expected to be decisive. The two times they have met since the election on March 17 have only served to highlight the depth of the personal animosity between the two men.

The main cause of the discord is Bennett's demand for both the defense and foreign ministries, which has been given the cold shoulder by Netanyahu until now. Bennett also wants the religious services ministry, which is expected to go to Shas.

Still, with the period allotted him to form his fourth government coming to an end on Tuesday, Netanyahu is expected to ask President Reuven Rivlin for a 14-day extension.

Meanwhile, a senior Likud source said on Thursday that Habayit Hayehudi's Ayelet Shaked would only receive a cabinet seat if the government was expanded beyond its current 18 ministerial posts.

The issue of a third portfolio for Habayait Hayehudi is one of the sticking points between the two parties.

"Either way, no decision has been taken regarding the third portfolio for Habayit Hayehudi and whether it will be central or junior," the source said.

Having offered Bennett the education portfolio, in which he is not interested, the Likud is now examining other ideas for getting him to drop his insistence on the foreign ministry. One is for rotation of the foreign ministry between Bennett and Lieberman, the current minister.

Another is to leave Bennett in the economy ministry, his current portfolio, but offer him additional responsibilities.