Coalition Discussions Begin |

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Yair Lapid Meet in Jerusalem

The prime minister met with the leader of Yesh Atid, the second-largest party in Israel's 19th Knesset for two and a half hours; he also phoned Habayit Hayehudi's Bennett, Meretz leader Gal-On and Labor's Yacimovich.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid at his official residence in Jerusalem on Thursday, the beginning of tentative coalition talks now that the final results of Israel's elections are in. Later on Thursday, both Meretz and the Labor Party informed Netanyahu that they would not join his government.

With all the ballots counted, Lapid's party emerged as the second strongest in the Knesset, with 19 seats. Netanyahu and former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's joint list won 31 seats.

The meeting with Lapid lasted two and a half hours, and reportedly took place in good spirits. According to an official statement by Likud-Beiteinu and Yesh Atid, Netanyahu and Lapid "discussed the challenges facing the state, and agreed to meet again soon."

Earlier, the prime minister phoned Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennet and spoke with him for the first time since the election. The prime minister also phoned leader of left-wing party Meretz, Zahava Gal-On, and Labor Leader Shelly Yacimovich. Both said that they would not join him in a coalition.

Speaking on the phone with Netanyahu, Yacimovich said she would not lend her hand to the "continuing collapse of Israeli society," in exchange for seats in the government.

"We intend to be a fierce opposition, and strongly oppose the steps you intend to make. In terms of diplomatic negotiations, which urgently need to be renewed, the Labor Party will support any step taken, and will back up such efforts from within the opposition," said Yacimovich to Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, sources in the Likud believe that several reigning ministers will not be offered posts in the new government. The officials believe that the new ratio will be one minister for every four MKs as opposed to one minister per three MKs in the last government, due to Yair Lapid's explicit condition on this matter. "There's no doubt some of the ministers fear for their posts," a source in Likud told Haaretz, adding that "we can already assume that several ministers such as Yuli Edelstein, Yuval Steinitz and even Limor Livnat cannot be sure of their position, even though Netanyahu will have no choice but to appoint at least one female minister from the Likud."

The list of disappointed MK's might be long, and sources in the party said that "when the MKs find out that there are only a few posts for them, they will finally understand the magnitude of the Likud's failure in the elections."

Many Likud MKs consider themselves candidates for ministerial posts. Zeev Elkin, who was extremely successful as chairman of the coalition, as far as Netanyahu's peace of mind was concerned, might find himself fulfilling the same role in the 19th Knesset. Yariv Levin and Danny Danon, two young and rising Likud MKs, who were chosen in high places in Likud primaries, believe they should be appointed ministers, but might eventually be disappointed. Haim Katz also considers himself a candidate for a government post, as does Tzhachi Hanegbi, who deserted Kadima to join Likud, and was promised a government post by Netanyahu, despite his poor showing in the primaries. Ministers Dan Meridor and Benny Begin were also promised posts by Netanyahu, but it is yet unclear if they wish to return to the government.

As far as the women in the Likud, Netanyahu is in a difficult position: sources in the party believe that at least one female MK will be appointed minister, but her identity is still unclear. Tzipi Hotovely and Miri Regev, the two most successful women in the primaries aren't considered close to Netanyahu, and probably won't be appointed. Limor Livnat, might lose her post due to her poor showing among Likud members, but is still considered by Netanyahu as experienced and loyal. And there is also the possibility that deputy minister Gila Gamliel, who enjoys Netanyahu's trust, might be appointed minister.

The same situation applies to Yisrael Beiteinu.The party had four ministers in the
last government: Avidgor Lieberman, who has since resigned, Uzi Landau, Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Sofa Landver. Lieberman promised two party members, Yair Shamir and Faina Kirshenbaum that they would be ministers; Shamir was promised a senior ministry, and Kirshenbaum the Agriculture Ministry.

A tough battle is also expected among Likud ministers who hope to improve their positions. Moshe Ya'alon is hoping to be appointed Defense Minister, while Gilad Erdan and Gideon Sa'ar are eying the Finance Ministry. Yisrael Katz and Silvan Shalom are willing to wage a veritable world war, using their support in the party, if they are downgraded. Sa'ar might be forced to give up the Education Ministry, for Lapid's candidate, Rabbi Shay Piron. Erdan might agree to accept a larger portfolio, that sees him serve as Energy and Water Resources Minister, on top of his current post as Environmental Protection Minister.

The Yesh Atid party, with Yair Lapid, center. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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