Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that the government President Shimon Peres has officially tasked him to form will be committed to peace.
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The coalition negotiations will start Sunday with meetings between Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu and its three major potential partners Yesh Atid, Habayit Hayehudi and Shas, in that order. United Torah Judaism, Hatnuah and Kadima have been invited for talks on Monday.
Netanyahu on Saturday listed the next government’s goals in a speech tailored to the potential coalition partners’ demands. He began with Iran and safety issues (Likud’s campaign), while also calling to renew the peace process (Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni’s demands). He undertook to conscript the ultra-Orthodox (at Lapid and Naftali Bennett’s behest), but said the method would not cross the Haredi leaders’ “red line" (Shas and UTJ’s demand).
After not using the word “peace” once during his campaign, Netanyahu urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resume peace talks
“We have many tasks to deal with, but first of all in the Middle East we must maintain security,” Netanyahu said. “The first task of the next government I form is to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The government will be bound to peace. I call on [Abbas] to return to the negotiating table.”
“We are committed to increase the equality [of the draft to the IDF]. We must make the change without tearing the people apart and without leading to internecine war,” he added.
“I call on all sectors and parties to join me in a national unity government that is as broad as possible,” Netanyahu said.
Over the weekend, some Likud sources said Netanyahu intended to weaken Lapid and invite Bennett’s party to the negotiations first, at Lapid’s expense. This speculation followed Lapid’s announcement last week that he intended to run for prime minister in the next election
“Netanyahu doesn’t need a senior partner who will undermine him and try to increase his strength at the expense of the prime minister,” a senior Likud source said. “He may try to reach understandings with Bennett first, to weaken Lapid’s bargaining power,” he said.
In contrast, other Likud sources said that these statements were part of the negotiation tactics, intended to signal to Lapid that his entrance to the government is not a fait accompli.
“Any message from around the negotiation team should be regarded with suspicion and could be intended as a tactic,” one source said.
Shas also sent conflicting messages yesterday. Senior party sources said Shas was ready to become part of the opposition for the first time since 2003, rather than “harm the yeshiva world.”
The sources said the differences between the ultra-Orthodox party and Yesh Atid were too large to bridge, and that Lapid is determined to drag Netanyahu to a government without Shas.
On the other hand, political commentators said this could be a negotiation tactic and that Shas was eager to enter the coalition, even if it means compromising on the draft issue.
Observers said Netanyahu had two possibilities for a broad coalition: one based on the commitment to draft the ultra-Orthodox, with Yesh Atid, Habayit Hayehudi and perhaps Shas (with the option of adding Kadima and Hatnuah). The other possibility was to form a coalition that would advance a peace agreement, with Yesh Atid, Hatnuah, Kadima and the ultra-Orthodox parties but not Habayit Hayehudi, which could hinder such a process.
Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On yesterday slammed Netanyahu’s call to form a broad government including leftist parties.
“The left has no intention of being a fig leaf to another national freeze government ... unity governments are governments of shuffling in one place and standing still,” she said.
Out of the 120 Knesset members, 82 recommended to President Peres that Netanyahu lead the next government. These included the members of the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu ticket, Yesh Atid, Habayit Hayehudi, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Kadima.