The Jewish Home and Yesh Atid parties agreed to sign a coalition agreement with Likud-Beytenu early Friday morning after all-night talks, paving the way for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to swear-in his new government early next week.
The coalition agreement had seemed a done deal on Wednesday, but hit a snag Thursday after Jewish Home representatives skipped a final meeting with Likud-Beytenu negotiators, over the issue of whether Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett would be afforded a deputy prime minister title.
According to the new deal, both Bennett and Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid will forgo the mostly ceremonial title, Israel Radio reported.
In return, Bennett will head the Cabinet panel on concentration of wealth and market competition, and his party will head a joint Knesset committee tasked with drafting a new universal military conscription law, Ynet news reported.
On Thursday, representatives of Jewish Home failed to arrive for a scheduled noon meeting with Likud chief negotiator David Shimron, amid reports that the prime minister’s wife delayed the final completion of coalition talks by demanding that Bennett — with whom she reportedly fell out when he served as her husband’s chief of staff from 2006-2008 — not be given the title of deputy prime minister. The same title was also therefore to be denied to fellow putative coalition partner Lapid, who worked closely with Bennett during the negotiations.
Shimron said it was an “ugly spin” to claim that Sara Netanyahu was responsible for the “ridiculous” argument over the deputy prime minister designations, and was sure “Mrs. Netanyahu has nothing to do with this.”
Jewish Home sources told Israel Radio that “the decision was one-sided and endangered work relations in the emerging government.”
Likud sources said they had been in contact with Yesh Atid representatives, who also requested that Lapid maintain the title, but that it wasn’t an ultimatum.
The last-minute argument appeared particularly marginal, since the title of “deputy prime minister” does not signify that its holder fills in for the prime minister when he is abroad or incapacitated. In fact, Likud officials said Thursday, the government would have to choose a stand-in PM as and when necessary, and he or she would come from the main party of the government.
With the glitch resolved, the coalition agreement was expected to be signed at noon on Friday. Once final, Netanyahu will be free to formally notify President Shimon Peres on Saturday night — the final day of the six weeks allocated to him — that he has mustered a Knesset majority. The coalition will comprise four parties: Likud-Beytenu (31 seats), Yesh Atid (19), Jewish Home (12) and Hatnua (6), for a total of 68 members in the 120-seat Knesset.
The outgoing government is set to hold a final meeting on Sunday, and the new government is likely to be sworn in Monday — some 48 hours before the scheduled arrival of Barack Obama on his first presidential visit.