Netanyahu Set for Nod From 80 MKs to Form Government

YERUSHALAYIM -
Israel’s President Shimon Peres (R) sitting with representatives of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu party on Wednesday. (REUTERS)
Israel’s President Shimon Peres (R) sitting with representatives of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu party on Wednesday. (REUTERS)

Unfazed by Likud-Beiteinu’s less-than-expected showing in the elections, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is poised to receive the endorsement of 80 Knesset members, paving the way for the broad coalition he says he’s been seeking, according to The Jerusalem Post.

After receiving the official election results on Wednesday evening from Central Elections Committee head Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, President Shimon Peres was slated to meet with the two largest Knesset factions, Likud-Beiteinu and Yesh Atid. On Thursday, the other 10 factions will give Peres their recommendations as to who they think should form the next government.

Netanyahu is expected to receive recommendations from Yesh Atid and the four factions on the right.

From the moment that Peres tasks Netanyahu with forming a government, he has 28 days to do so. The president has the authority to grant an additional 14 days on request.

There’s a distance to go before the government takes final shape. Netanyahu has still to negotiate with the various parties concerning policy matters and the allocation of ministerial posts.

Yair Lapid (L), leader of the Yesh Atid party, is escorted by an employee of the President’s office before meeting Israel’s President Shimon Peres (unseen) on Wednesday for consultations over the formation of a new coalition. (REUTERS)
Yair Lapid (L), leader of the Yesh Atid party, is escorted by an employee of the President’s office before meeting Israel’s President Shimon Peres (unseen) on Wednesday for consultations over the formation of a new coalition. (REUTERS)

The issue of drafting yeshivah and kollel students remains a major stumbling block.

United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler’s office said that Shas and UTJ were trying to enlist the support of the Jewish Home party in opposing a
chareidi draft.

“It is in Netanyahu’s hands, but if Lapid wants to drag yeshivah students out of the study hall then we won’t be able to join a coalition with him,” Rabbi Eichler said, noting the chareidi parties’ political value to the prime minister as reliable coalition partners during the last government.

Netanyahu and his aides are experienced at coalition-making, and realistic. They know that the re-crowning of “King Bibi” may not go through without a few dents in the royal headgear.

“Any prime minister wants to finish coalition negotiations within a week,” a senior Likud politician close to Netanyahu said. “There will be ups and downs. Many parties want to be in the coalition, but that does not make them more flexible.”

Jewish Home MK Uri Orbach underscored that point this week when he said Netanyahu could not take his party for granted.

“We are not a faction of three MKs that would be satisfied with just the Science and Technology Ministry like last time,” Orbach said of his party, which has 12 seats. “We are not joining at any price, without conditions.”

“Jewish Home should be able to get one of [the senior positions] as the second-largest coalition partner,” a party source said. “We prefer the Justice Ministry — especially for Uri Ariel (second on the list), since he talked about it throughout the campaign.”

“Lapid can’t take the Foreign Ministry and Housing and Education. He can’t have all the senior portfolios. He’ll have to learn to be flexible,” the Jewish Home source added.

Sources in Yesh Atid said that, in addition to either the Finance or Foreign Ministry for party leader Yair Lapid, they will ask for the Housing and Education Ministries. In addition, Yesh Atid wants the chairmanship of the powerful Knesset Finance Committee.

A senior UTJ source responding to the rumors said he doubts it will happen, because Yesh Atid will receive several ministries.

“Since we don’t take ministerial positions [for ideological reasons], we ask for deputy ministerial posts and chairmanship of important Knesset committees. Other than the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the most important is the Finance Committee, which is especially important regarding the allocation of budgets,” the source told the Post.

UTJ Rabbi Moshe Gafni has been the Finance Committee chairman until now. UTJ plans to ask for the Deputy Health Minister and Deputy Education Minister positions, which it held in the last Knesset.

Labor and Tzipi Livni’s Movement party are expected to withhold backing for any candidate. However, a source close to Livni said there was a possibility she would recommend herself, in order to keep her promise of recommending someone from the Center-Left bloc.

Netanyahu received an extension when he formed his last coalition four years ago. But this time, the prime minister has the added incentive of wishing to complete coalition talks within the 28 days. That would allow him to present his government to Peres by February 28, three days before the national policy conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee is scheduled to open in Washington. Netanyahu has yet to confirm his participation, pending coalition talks. But if they go smoothly, he will be able to attend the conference and meet with President Barack Obama with a new government behind him.