Progress has been made for the first time in the coalition talks between Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi on one side and Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu on the other, MKs Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett confirmed Monday.
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A week after the revelation of the affair in which Bennett sent a private investigator to look into suspicions that a Knesset member from his Habayit Hayehudi party, Nissan Slomiansky, had paid for votes in the party primary, Bennett looked optimistic and was smiling. "In politics too we are moving from winter into spring," Bennett told the party's MKs.
"There is a good feeling and lots of goodwill to establish a government," said Bennett. He said the parties are working hard to establish a government what will "serve Israel faithfully for a maximum amount of time and [we] are coming to [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu to help."
Yesh Atid leader Lapid was more restrained, though he too said his party is on its way to joining the coalition. "Listen, it is far from being finished," Lapid told his MKs Monday.
"There are quite a few issues still unsolved and Israeli politics is a politics of surprises. I hope we will succeed in establishing a good government together with the Likud and the other factions," said Lapid, adding that he was aiming to join a government "that will be stable and will advance what is good for the country and not what is good for politicians."
Lapid made it clear that despite suspicions in the Likud that he will act to move up the next elections once he feels his support for a putative run for prime minister has grown, Lapid said his actual intention is to serve in the cabinet for the entire term of four and a half years. Despite his firm stand against having the ultra-Orthodox parties enter the coalition, Lapid said he intends to aid the Haredi community since his party will also serve them. "We will become the address for their needs," promised Lapid. "We waited until now, we will wait a little longer. There is in any case a deadline and then we will know everything," he added.
After Netanyahu made his decision to bring Bennett and Lapid into the government, reaching a coalition agreement with them will be "just a matter of days," said Likud party sources. "Netanyahu knows exactly what are the positions Lapid and Bennett are dictating. He knows he must advance a significant framework for sharing the burden and he also knows what portfolios the two parties are asking for," the sources said. "There is no reason to wait until the last moment, March 16, when all the principles are already on the table."
Negotiations over the distribution of ministerial portfolios to the two parties is expected to start now. The two parties have already coordinated the matter between themselves in an attempt to present a united front to Netanyahu, and not to allow him to play one against the other.
Yesh Atid is expected to ask for the education, interior and social services portfolios – and possibly even the senior position of foreign minister for Yair Lapid, although that post is widely known to be reserved for former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman is presently the chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and will remain so until his trial ends.
Habayit Hayehudi is expected to ask for the ministries of housing and construction; industry, trade and labor; religious affairs and even possibly the culture and sports portfolio.
Another possible problem in the coalition negotiations is the agreement already signed between Netanyahu and Hatnuah's Tzipi Livni. Both Habayit Hayehudi and Yesh Atid have harshly criticized the decision to put Livni in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians, as well as making her chairwoman of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation – a post which would allow her to block laws with a right-wing political bent. It is not clear how Netanyahu will solve the problem of the two senior coalition partners' objections to Livni's status, or whether Netanyahu plans to reopen his agreement with Livni.