Coalition Talks in Trouble as Potential Partners Dig In on Demands

Head of the Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a faction meeting of the Otzma Yehudit party at the Knesset, last week. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

With coalition talks making little headway , the Likud party ran into more trouble on Sunday night when the Otzma Yehudit party declared it was breaking off negotiations over a disagreement on proposed ministerial posts.

Otzma Yehudit said the Likud was looking to walk back a deal to appoint a member of the party as the next head of the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee. Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir is already set to receive the Public Security Ministry, but with his party holding six seats in the Knesset, he’s hoping to claim at least one more portfolio.

“Contrary to an earlier agreement, Likud retracted and now refuses to give the additional ministry — the Negev, the Galilee and the Periphery — to Otzma Yehudit,” a party official told media outlets.

“Strengthening the Negev, the Galilee and the periphery is our election promise, and we were elected to fulfill election promises,” the official said.

It was the latest hurdle thrown up by Binyamin Netanyahu’s prospective coalition partners as he tries to negotiate agreements to establish a government following their victory in the Nov. 1 election.

Netanyahu, who had hoped to swiftly reach coalition agreements and establish a government, is already at an impasse with another party, Religious Zionism, whose leader, Betzalel Smotrich, has demanded the position of defense minister or finance minister in the prospective coalition.

Netanyahu has been opposed to granting Smotrich the defense role. Netanyahu reportedly aims to keep the Defense Ministry within his Likud party, possibly by granting it to MK Yoav Gallant.

Smotrich’s insistence on the defense post has irked many in the Likud, who view him as holding up the formation of a government.

Another key hurdle has been the refusal by Shas leader Rabbi Aryeh Deri to back down from his demand for the Finance Ministry.

Smotrich has also refused Likud’s request that he meet with Rabbi Deri to discuss the Finance Ministry post, Kan News reported. Sources close to Smotrich said in response that he was demanding the Defense Ministry and “negotiations on the Finance Ministry are behind us.”

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