A senior member of Netanyahu's Likud party who is involved in the coalition talks said Tuesday that Netanyahu is considering acceding to Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni's demand to appoint her as minister in charge of talks with the Palestinians.
Livni, a former foreign minister who is well-regarded in Western capitals, campaigned almost exclusively on the need to forge an agreement with the Palestinians, and responsibility for this issue is her main condition for joining the government.
The senior Likud official said that Netanyahu plans to keep the Foreign Ministry for himself this term, since former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is currently barred from holding any ministerial position due to his pending trial for breach of trust, and it's not yet clear whether he'll be able to return to the cabinet. That will depend on how the court rules.
"Therefore, Netanyahu is seriously considering making Livni the 'acting foreign minister,' in charge of the diplomatic process," the official said.
"Livni would 'whitewash' the Netanyahu government in the world's eyes, just as the Labor Party and, later, Atzmaut 'whitewashed' the previous Netanyahu government."
Lieberman, he said, would instead be given the chairmanship of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
"Our impression is that Livni has changed her approach to membership in the Netanyahu government from top to bottom," the Likud official added. "She's currently broadcasting willingness for a real partnership with the prime minister."
The coalition negotiations were put on temporary hold Tuesday while the new Knesset was sworn in, and so was the running feud that Netanyahu's Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu slate has been conducting with Yair Lapid via the media, in which each tries to intimidate the other into softening its negotiating position. Lapid, whose centrist Yesh Atid party is the Knesset's second largest, even hugged Netanyahu in congratulations and shook hands warmly with the outgoing ministers.
In contrast, the handshake between Netanyahu and Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett was decidedly chilly, a sign that their tense relationship, which dates back to Bennett's days as Netanyahu's chief of staff, hasn't yet thawed.
The only MK who continued to openly criticize Lapid Tuesday was Lieberman, who told a Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu faction meeting that Lapid was "an innovation I haven't seen before: This is the first time I've seen people who, the day after the election, aren't talking about the good of the country but about how to be prime minister."
Likud sources added that it is still too soon to say whether Lapid will join the government. "Lapid made every possible mistake," the senior Likud official said. "For now, he's out of the coalition. He didn't act properly at all."
Netanyahu met for over an hour Tuesday with Labor Party chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich. Afterward, Yacimovich said the gaps between her and the premier remain "enormous" on both economic issues and the peace process, so "Labor will serve the nation from the opposition."
Netanyahu, for his part, repeated his call for a broad national unity government at yesterday's swearing-in ceremony, warning that "Nobody will make peace with a weak, divided Israel."