While coalition talks have yet to be formally concluded, judging by this morning’s papers we have started to see the next government’s final make-up — ultra-Orthodox parties out, rising political forces in.

“Senior Likud officials: Coalition agreement with Lapid and Bennett sometime next week,” reads the top headline of Maariv. “Shas: Netanyahu has given up on us,” says Yedioth Ahronoth.

Both papers have been reporting for days already that talks between Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu and the Jewish Home-Yesh Atid alliance have been warming up and that they are close to inking a coalition agreement. So much so, that it sometimes appears that the journalists are more intent on seeing the government take shape than are the politicians, who for the most part have remained cagey on the issue.

Unfortunately for Shas and United Torah Judaism, the entrance into the coalition of rising political stars Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett and their parties means they may be left high and dry. No matter how often Aryeh Deri says he will go “with his head held high” to the opposition, such a move would be a blow to Netanyahu’s “natural partners,” who are not used to taking a backseat in the running of the country.

Israel Hayom offers a slightly tempered version of events, its main headline reading: “Going into overtime.” Employing a term borrowed from the world of sports, the paper says that Netanyahu will require a presidential extension on top of the four-week period given him to form a government following elections. The paper also talks about the possibility of a two-stage coalition, with the religious parties to make their entrance at a later date, though that option is one that the Haredi parties themselves reject.

For those who were worried, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah appears on the front pages of Maariv and Israel Hayom to announce he isn’t dying of cancer, thank you very much, and that reports of his demise are very much exaggerated. The arch-terrorist gave a speech on Al-Manar yesterday, informing the world that he is alive and well, as well as taking the opportunity to deny the widespread reports that his troops are taking part in the fighting in Syria.

Minister of Sports and Culture Limor Livnat comes under fire on the front page of Haaretz this morning for her lack of support for the Israeli Academy Awards nominees. Livnat apparently did not share the disappointment of many Israelis after learning that “The Gatekeepers” and “5 Broken Cameras” failed to win the prestigious Best Documentary Award, lamenting, in an interview on Channel 10, that “too many Israeli films in the last few years have slandered Israel on the global stage.”

Livnat pressed the issue further on Wednesday, when, in a letter to filmmakers’ associations, she called on producers, directors, screenwriters and documentary makers to employ self-censorship when selecting which projects to promote. Her irony radar apparently on the fritz, Livnat wrote that the filmmakers should appreciate the free and open Israeli democracy that allows them to make their critical movies, while in the same breath hinting at possible cuts to film foundations that sponsor “Israel-bashing” movies.

Israel’s first beauty queen of Ethiopian descent graces the front page of Yedioth this morning. Yityish Aynaw, 21, who was entered into the competition by a friend, immigrated to Israel when she was 12. The paper features a two-page spread on her victory, including tips by past competition winners and an op-ed by Ethiopian-Israeli Knesset member Penina Tamnu-Shata, calling Aynaw the new face of Israel.

Both Israel Hayom and Maariv give front-page prominence to Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s first public statements on the forged document that sought to ruin his political career by smearing him with accusations of sexual offenses.

“[These were] very uneasy days, for me, those dear to me and others who were hurt. That’s an injury that’s difficult to describe,” Sa’ar said at a conference in Eilat, a day after the police chief announced that the letter was a forgery.

Health issues

Guy Bechor writes in the opinion pages of Yedioth that whether or not Nasrallah has cancer, his organization is in terminal condition. Bechor writes that with Iran suffering from economic hardships and the Syrian regime nearing collapse, Hezbollah has lost its lifeline to the outside world. “Will Hezbollah try, as it has for the past two decades, to focus attention on us for its survival? The answer is apparently no. Nasrallah and his senior officials know that the IDF is coiled like a spring. Battle with Israel will only further weaken the radical Shiite organization and then the local Sunnis will sweep in and finish the job,” he writes.

Nadav Shragai suggest in Israel Hayom that the time has come for some “Israeli hutzpa” in the effort to free Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. He argues that in the world of geopolitics, interests are the only currency with any value, and that appeals for mercy based on Pollard’s deteriorating health have little sway in the give and take between countries. Shragai proposes instead that Israel demand Pollard’s release in exchange for concessions to the Americans and Palestinians ahead of Barack Obama’s upcoming visit.