Bennett said to drop Foreign Ministry demand in coalition breakthrough
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Bennett said to drop Foreign Ministry demand in coalition breakthrough

Move to ask for education portfolio instead likely removes major stumbling block as deadline nears to form government

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, speaks during an interview to The Associated Press in Jerusalem, Monday, February. 16, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Tsafrir Abayov)
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, speaks during an interview to The Associated Press in Jerusalem, Monday, February. 16, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looked set to have the pieces needed to cobble together a new governing coalition, after Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett reportedly dropped his demand for the Foreign Ministry Saturday night, likely removing a major stumbling block in coalition talks.

With just over a week to go for Netanyahu to form his coalition, Bennett will ask Likud for control of the Education Ministry instead of the highly coveted Foreign Ministry, which will stay in Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman’s hands, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

The move will pave the way for Jewish Home and Yisrael Beytenu to both join a Likud-led government, giving Netanyahu the last pieces he is thought to need to form a coalition.

The Prime Minister has already all but formalized deals for Kulanu and ultra-orthodox factions Shas and UTJ to come aboard, giving him a total of 67 seats.

Bennett and Netanyahu met Friday, with the prime minister reportedly offering up a raft of appointments.

Netanyahu reportedly offered the Strategic Affairs Ministry, in addition to the Economy Ministry which he currently holds.

The party’s no. 3, Ayelet Shaked, was said to be headed to the Ministry of Culture and Sport, and Uri Ariel was to receive the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The office he currently holds, the Ministry of Construction and Housing, was said to be earmarked for Kulanu member Yoav Galant.

The Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party was also offered the role of deputy minister for one of its members in an unnamed ministry, and the chairmanship of a major Knesset committee, most likely the influential Constitution, Law and Justice committee, according to Channel 2.

While the Education Ministry was not among the posts offered, Netanyahu is thought to be open to giving Bennett the post in lieu of a more senior post.

A major stumbling block in negotiations has been Jewish Home’s wrangling with Shas over the Religious Affairs portfolio, according to the TV report. Jewish Home held the office in the outgoing government, but Netanyahu’s reported promise to now deliver the ministry to Aryeh Deri’s ultra-Orthodox party had enraged Bennett.

According to Israel Radio, the Likud has offered a compromise by which the religious affairs minister will be from Shas, while his deputy will be a Bennett appointee.

Yisrael Beytenu has also presented Netanyahu with a problem, due to its staunch opposition to rolling back legislation on universal national service for the ultra-Orthodox and reforms of the state conversion and marriage registration systems, matters which Shas and UTJ seek to change. If Netanyahu concedes these issues to Shas and UTJ, party officials told Ynet that Yisrael Beytenu has no qualms about joining the opposition.

Likud negotiator Ze’ev Elkin on Friday called on Jewish Home and Yisrael Beytenu to show flexibility. Speaking to Israel Radio, Elkin urged the parties to act responsibly, and to understand that all sides would be required to compromise in order to form a government.

“We are on the home stretch, and if parties of the national camp (meaning right-wing parties) want a government from the national camp to be formed, they need to move forward in the negotiation process,” he said.

The prime minister had an easier time negotiating with Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, as an agreement between the two is reported to be all but finalized.

Netanyahu and Kahlon reportedly reached an agreement — just before Memorial Day — on Kulanu joining the coalition. Kulanu will receive three ministries: the Finance Ministry, the Construction and Housing Ministry and the Environmental Protection Ministry. The prime minister is also said to have conceded to Kahlon’s demand to shelve legislation that would restrict the powers of the Supreme Court, laws which Kahlon opposes.

The legislation which the Likud had planned to advance — and which Kahlon vetoed — included a bill that would severely limit the Supreme Court’s ability to annul bills passed by the Knesset, as well as allow the plenum to re-legislate laws shot down by the court; and a bill that would change the makeup of the Judicial Selection Committee to give the government increased clout in the process.

The prime minister has been racing the clock in order establish a new government by the May 7 deadline. Under Israeli election rules, if Netanyahu fails to form a coalition by that date, President Reuven Rivlin can assign someone else the task of doing so.

AP contributed to this report.

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