Netanyahu Gets Two More Weeks as Coalition Nerves Fray

YERUSHALAYIM -

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will have two more weeks to appease his testy coalition partners and form a new government after Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, acceded to his request on Monday for an extension on the initial 28-day period.

“We made progress and we are on the way to forming a government, but I need additional time for it to be stable and to reach agreements on important issues that will help us meet all the challenges facing Israel,” Netanyahu said during a meeting with President Rivlin.

One of the “challenges facing Israel” Netanyahu likely had in mind was finding a way to satisfy the conflicting demands of Jewish Home, Kulanu, Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas.

On Monday, Jewish Home chief Naftali Bennett provided a good example of why Netanyahu needs more time, as he threatened to bolt the coalition talks if he doesn’t get the Religious Affairs Ministry.

“Unilaterally taking the Religious Affairs Ministry away from the religious Zionist movement and handing it to Shas will spell the end of negotiations with Jewish Home,” Bennett said in an online ultimatum.

Likud negotiator MK Ze’ev Elkin said he would not be intimidated.

“I don’t believe that negotiating through threats and other means is appropriate,” Elkin said. “Some of the parties who are our natural partners in the nationalist camp need to realize that in order to form a coalition ruled by our camp, there needs to be a limit to the incessant demands.”

“Every party received offers that answer to their needs, including Jewish Home,” he told Army Radio. \

It has been reported that Netanyahu wants to award Shas the Religious Affairs portfolio if it will forego its demand for the Interior Ministry and let Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon take it.

However, Shas MK Yaakov Margi told reporters on Sunday that “we know we will receive Interior and Religious Affairs.” When asked if Interior was a done deal, or that Shas might yet agree to accept an expanded Agriculture Ministry instead, Margi said that “nothing is impossible,” but that to the best of his knowledge, Interior it will be.

Regarding the tussle over Religious Affairs with Naftali Bennett, Margi downplayed the issue, saying that he was not aware of any such problem. “Statements in the media are one thing, actions are another,” he said.

When asked if he wasn’t concerned about Jewish Home abandoning the coalition, Margi said they have to decide how important the ministry really is to them. “If they want to make a unity government with Zionist Camp because of Religious Affairs, no problem.”

Would Shas be willing to sit around the coalition table with the center-left Zionist Camp?

“We do not boycott anybody,” Margi replied. “On the contrary, we were boycotted by various parties” in the previous government, referring to the insistence of Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to keep the chareidi parties out, in which Jewish Home and Likud collaborated.

Meanwhile, Tzachi Hanegbi, the deputy foreign minister from Likud, said the prospect of Herzog joining the coalition was only becoming a possibility due to the stubbornness of the right-wing parties.

“It is rising only as an extreme scenario whose chances of coming true are a result of the Jewish Home or Yisrael Beitenu, either both of them or one of them, stubbornly refusing to show flexibility,” he told Army Radio.

Zionist Camp leader Isaac Herzog continues to rule out, publicly at least, the possibility of joining Likud.

“Sitting in the opposition is not a default choice but a preference,” he said. “Our place is in the opposition. We will replace the Likud government.”

However, not everyone in his camp sees that as a viable policy. As Haaretz columnist Carlo Strenger wrote: “Ultimately, the idea of staying in the opposition is based on a deep illusion: It is that the liberal center-left is likely to regain power in the foreseeable future, and that Israel’s electorate just has to realize how destructive the political right’s policies are.”