The negotiations on Israel's next governing coalition have entered the final stretch, with the deadline, which is effective Friday before the Sabbath, fast approaching.
The major disagreements that still stand are between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party and Yesh Atid, who are battling over the education and interior portfolios.
Only four portfolios have been agreed upon so far, and are still subject to change: the foreign portfolio which is saved for Avigdor Lieberman until the end of his trial, the finance portfolio which is due to be handed to Yair Lapid, the industry, trade, and labor portfolio, which is due to be taken by Naftali Bennett, and the justice portfolio, which is due to be handed to Tzipi Livni.
Likud officials have threatened Wednesday that if there will not be a breakthrough in negotiations with Yesh Atid, they will start negotiations with the ultra-Orthodox parties.
11:24 P.M. Reports have reached Haaret that Yuval Steinitz will be appointed Strategic Affairs Minister; Silvan Shalom will be appointed Home Front Defense Minister; Yair Shamir will be appointed Agriculture Minister; Uzi Landau will be appointed Tourism Minister; Gideon Sa'ar will be appointed Interior Minister; Ofer Shlah will be appointed Deputy Defense Minister; and Limor Livnat or Gila Gamliel will be Culture and Sports Minister or Communications Minister.
9:51 P.M. The meeting between Netanyahu, Lapid, and Bennett has been postponed to Thursday. The negotiating teams of the three parties are meeting in order to work out the final details of the agreement. On Thursday, Habayit Hayehudi will hold a party meeting in order to approve the coalition agreement, and only afterward there will be a meeting between Netanyahu, Lapid, and Bennett.
9:10 P.M. From Yesh Atid, Former Herzliya mayor Yael German will be Health Minister, Former Dimona mayor Meir Cohen will be Social Affairs Minister, and Yaakov Perry will be Science and Technology Minister.
8:40 P.M. There is now a battle within Likud over the interior portfolio between Gideon Sa'ar and Gilad Erdan, who were both stripped of their ministerial roles. The man who will not receive the interior portfolio is expected to receive a different position in the government.
Ahead of the meeting with Netanyahu and Lapid, Bennett sounded optimistic. "At this time, the government coalition is being established with fondness and communal responsibility. I hope that a government will be established tonight."
7:45 P.M. Habayit Hayehudi also fared well in the coalition agreement. According to the details of the agreement, Naftali Bennett will be appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister, and will be responsible for the the religion portfolio. Uri Ariel will be appointed Housing and Construction Minister and will also be responsible for the Israeli Lands Administration. Uri Orbach will be appointed Culture and Sports Minister. Ayelet Shaked or Nissan Slominski will be appointed to the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee.
6:52 P.M. Likud and Yesh Atid likely reached a compromise: Bennett will present both sides an offer in which Lapid will receive the finance portfolio, Yesh Atid's Shai Piron will receive the education portfolio, Likud will take the interior portfolio, and the Knesset Finance Committee chairmanship will be handed to Habayit Hayehudi. Moreover, Lapid will agree to the appointment of Amir Peretz as a minister and the appointment of another deputy minister on behalf of Likud. Lapid, Netanyahu, and Bennett are due to meet at 9 P.M. in order to close the negotiations.
6:20 P.M. A senior member of Yesh Atid denied the claims that his party's chairman Yair Lapid had decided that he wasn't interested to be appointed as finance minister and instead would like to hold another election. "Lapid hasn't changed his mind. This is just another spin on behalf of the Likud. We have a few major demands that could be settled by a yes or a no. As far as we are concerned, the negotiations can be completed within 20 minutes. Among our demands are: Limiting the number of ministers in the government to 20, the interior and education portfolios, and the chairmanship of the Knesset's Finance Committee."
6:00 P.M. The coalition negotiations face another crisis: Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi claim that the Likud is demanding the number of ministers in the new government be increased by one so that Amir Peretz can also be a member of the government. The demand on the part of the Likud came following Hatnua Chairwoman's threat that her party would pull out of the coalition if the number of ministers allotted to her party is halved from two to on.
5:02 P.M. The meeting between Bennett and Lapid has concluded. Bennett will continue attempts to reach a solution in talks with Likud officials. The current issues on the table are Likud's desire to appoint Amir Peretz to a ministerial role despite the limited positions and to add an additional deputy minister position – which Lapid objects to - and Yesh Atid's demand to receive the education and interior portfolios, which is unacceptable to Likud.
4:54 P.M. Haaretz's senior political analyst reports that Netanyahu has reached the conclusion that Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid has regretted agreeing to take the finance portfolio and is no longer interested in joining the government coalition, Haaretz learned on Wednesday from Likud party sources.
This is the reason, senior Likud sources said on Wednesday, that Lapid instructed his negotiating team to toughen their positions and demand the education and interior portfolios as well as the chairmanship of the powerful Knesset Finance Committee. This is the real reason, according to these sources, behind the ultimatum issued by the Likud party to Lapid on Wednesday: compromise or there will be a government with the ultra-Orthodox parties.
Likud, Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi sources all shared the assessment that the coming few hours, until Wednesday evening at the latest, will be critical in determining the composition of the next government coalition. The final practical deadline for signing all the coalition agreements is the beginning of the Jewish sabbath at sundown on Friday. This is because most of the relevant potential coalition partners observe the sabbath: Shas, United Torah Judaism and Habayit Hayehudi. Even if Likud party members were prepared to violate the sabbath (and they appear to have no interest in doing so), Likud party negotiator attorney David Shomron and his team wouldn't have anyone to speak with on the other end.
4:39 P.M. Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid met at the Yesh Atid party leader's home in Tel Aviv, in another attempt to reach a solution in the impasse in coalition talks.
3:30 P.M. In the past 24 hours, Netanyahu spoke to Shas party leader Eli Yishai three times in an effort to reach common ground. Netanyahu offered that the two parties' negotiating teams meet again, but Yishai decided to hold off on any meetings. A senior Shas official said that the reason for this is "to make sure Netanyahu isn't using Shas as a bargaining chip in the negotiations against Lapid."
1:55 P.M. Yesh Atid officials batted down criticism toward the party's negotiating tactics and rejected the Likud's threat as hollow.
"Netanyahu is threatening us with an empty revolver," said the Yesh Atid source. "He hasn't formed a government with the Haredim until now because the election results don't allow him to create such a government."
1:37 P.M. Netanyahu threatened to open lightning-round negotiations with the ultra-Orthodox parties following the aggressive stance taken by Yesh Atid's leader Yair Lapid.
"If there isn't a breakthrough with Lapid in the coming hours, and he doesn't back down from his exaggerated demands, the prime minister will begin lightning talks with the Haredi parties," the Likud party said in a statement.