Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu started coalition talks on Sunday afternoon with the party likely to pose the most difficulties: Yesh Atid.
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Yair Lapid’s party could become its senior coalition partner, but en route its representatives are likely to present a lengthy list of demands long before ministerial positions are handed out.
The Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu negotiation team will also be meeting with Habayit Hayehudi and Shas at the Kfar Maccabiah convention center near Tel Aviv on Monday.
As an opening position, Lapid’s party will demand a reduction in the number of ministers and eradication of ministers without portfolio in the next government. Netanyahu's outgoing cabinet has several of them.
Yesh Atid will also be demanding far-reaching legislation on 'sharing the burden,' meaning drafting ultra-Orthodox Jews into some form of national service, and changing Israel’s system of governance, as well as renewing political negotiations with the Palestinians and bringing at least one other centrist party entering the coalition.
As for the distribution of ministries, Lapid is likely to demand the Foreign Ministry for himself, as well as the education, justice and housing ministries in addition to chairmanship of the Knesset finance committee. Unlike Netanyahu, Lapid views Habayit Hayehudi as a natural, sought-after partner in the next government and may be expected to insist on its inclusion.
Meanwhile, Attorney Isaac Molho has stepped down from the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu negotiating team because he opted to continue as the prime minister’s special envoy to negotiations with the Palestinians. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein made it clear he could not fill both roles concurrently.
On Saturday, President Shimon Peres charged Benjamin Netanyahu with the task of forming the next government. Netanyahu thanked “the citizens of Israel” for having elected him and called for the establishment of a broad national unity government.
Afterwards, he gave a speech that pleased all potential coalition partners when he defined the next government’s goals: Netanyahu placed the security question and Iran first (the key theme of Likud’s election campaign), but at the same time called for the resumption of the peace process (in line with the demands of both Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni).
In addition, he expressed his commitment to a more equitable sharing of the defense burden (Lapid and Bennett’s demand), but hedged this by saying that no formula would come at the expense of the ultra-Orthodox community’s red lines (pleasing to both Shas and United Torah Judaism).
There were contradictory assertions within Likud over the weekend about Netanyahu’s true desires. Senior Likud officials claimed Netanyahu was planning to “shut Lapid out” because of an interview he granted the Channel 2 television program Uvda (“Fact”) in which Lapid declared his intention of running for prime minister in the next election.
“Netanyahu doesn’t need a senior partner who is going to undermine him and build up his own resume at the expense of the sitting PM,” explained sources close to Netanyahu. “One cannot rule out the possibility that we’ll first try to reach understandings with Naftali Bennett – despite the difficult personal relationship between him and Netanyahu – in order to weaken Lapid’s bargaining position.”
Other sources in Likud claimed that all such remarks were no more than a negotiating tactic designed to signal to Lapid that his inclusion in the next government wasn’t a done deal. “These days, you have to examine every statement made by people close to the negotiating teams extremely critically and with a great deal of suspicion. Every remark is made for a reason, and often that reason is to serve the negotiations for forming a government.”
One way or another, the three parties who style themselves as the government’s likely senior partners will all put in an appearance Monday at the Kfar Maccabiah convention center for more coalition talks.
Political sources noted two possible scenarios for a broad Netanyahu-led coalition: one based on equitable sharing of the defense burden with Yesh Atid, Habayit Hayehudi and perhaps also Shas (with the possible inclusion of Hatnuah and Kadima), and the other stressing progress on the political front, which would include Yesh Atid, Hatnuah, Kadima and the ultra-Orthodox parties, leaving Habayit Hayehudi to fill the opposition benches. Including Habayit Hayehudi in the coalition is liable internationally to convey the message that the government is not fully committed to the peace process.
While Habayit Hayehudi has announced its intention to promote a law aimed at burden equality, it has yet to present an outline of its own on the issue and did not place its support behind any of the related laws that might be put to a vote in the coming months. Seeing as such a law is going to be one of the central elements upon which the next government will be founded, the party has asked for time to study the issue in depth.
Habayit Hayedudi's coalition negotiation team is expected to meet with Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Tuesday in order to go over the outline he suggested for ultra-Orthodox inclusion in the military.
The meeting was requested by MK Uri Ariel, after his fellow party member Moti Yogev met with Ya’alon on Friday. Habayit Hayehudi are also studying Yair Lapid’s outline for Haredi draft and burden equality.