Negotiations between Yamina and Yesh Atid officially resumed on Sunday evening. The two sides have already agreed on a number of issues, including the distribution of ministerial posts and how the government will operate. This is their second round of talks, after the first was suspended due to the flare-up between Israel and Gaza.
According to agreements already reached by the chairmen of the two parties, Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, the unity government will consist of two blocs with equal powers, although they will be different sizes. The Lapid bloc will include his Yesh Atid party, as well as Yisrael Beiteinu, Meretz, Labor and Kahol Lavan. The Bennett bloc will include his Yamina faction and Gideon Sa'ar's New Hope. The United Arab List will support the government without joining the coalition.
The Bennett bloc, which includes only 12 Knesset members (without Yamina MK Amichai Chikli, who announced earlier this month that he will not support a government led by Lapid), will receive eight ministerial portfolios. The Lapid bloc, which includes no fewer than 45 lawmakers, will receive 18 portfolios. Despite these agreements reached during the first round of talks, the distribution of portfolios is still subject to change.
Bennett had previously expressed interest in retaining what he termed “ideological” portfolios, which included reserving the Justice Ministry for Gideon Sa’ar, the Interior Ministry for Ayelet Shaked, the Education Ministry for Yifat Shasha-Biton and the Religious Services Ministry for Matan Kahana. These portfolios will remain in his bloc.
One key issue that the parties have yet to settle is the equal distribution of power within the new government, Yesh Atid and Yamina members have said. Both parties are aware of the significant challenges that the power-sharing system of the previous government created and support changing it, in order to ensure that the new government remains functional.
In the previous round of talks, Bennett demanded an extra cabinet vote that would act as a tie-breaker if needed – a demand that Yesh Atid adamantly rejected. Yesh Atid is not expected to change its position on the matter, and the negotiation teams will discuss decision-making systems for the cabinet in the coming days.
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One of the central decisions reached by the two sides is that any controversial legislation would be frozen for at least one year. The coalition agreements between Yesh Atid and the other parties wishing to form the alternative government do not include this clause, even in regard to complex issues such as religion and state. Despite this, they may now decide to institute a waiting period for personal or controversial legislation, and in any event, bills relating to religion and state will only be advanced with a general consensus.
Sources in Yesh Atid estimate that in addition to freezing controversial legislation, coalition agreements already signed with other parties will need to be amended. They will not need to be fundamentally changed, but will likely need slight rewording, and a few ministerial posts may need to be shuffled.
In Yesh Atid's negotiations with Yisrael Beiteinu, for example, Avigdor Lieberman was given the Negev and Galilee development portfolio – a position that was originally designated for Yamina's Ayelet Shaked, as part of an expanded interior portfolio. This portfolio might return to Shaked, with Lieberman getting an alternative post instead. There could be other such cases, especially regarding controversies over religious issues or the court system.
Another significant issue is the Knesset speaker position, a post that Yesh Atid is unwilling to relinquish. New Hope wants the job for Zeev Elkin. People familiar with the negotiations say that there may be a proposal that the speaker position rotate alongside that of the prime minister. Thus, while Bennett is prime minister, someone from the Lapid bloc will be speaker, and when the power is transferred to Lapid, the speaker will belong to the Bennett bloc.
The major hurdle for these negotiations, sources in Yesh Atid say, is time. All of these changes need to take place within the next three days, so that everyone can sign the coalition agreement, including Bennett and Shaked, before Lapid’s mandate to form a government expires. The deal with Kahol Lavan is not yet closed, and the parties are currently arguing over the agriculture portfolio. The sides have also not reached an agreement with New Hope regarding the distribution of portfolios.