The Jewish Home party renewed talks with Likud-Beytenu negotiators late Thursday night, after breaking contact earlier in the day in light of reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had reneged on a commitment to appoint party leader Naftali Bennett as deputy premier in the next government.
Representatives of the national religious party failed to arrive for a scheduled noon meeting with Likud chief negotiator David Shimron, after reports circulated that the prime minister’s wife delayed 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 2006-08 — not be given the largely symbolic title of deputy prime minister. The same title would also therefore be denied to fellow putative coalition partner Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid.
Shimron had 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 that 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 “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 sides talking again, it was anticipated that a final agreement would be reached by Friday morning. Once it is signed, Netanyahu will be free to formally inform 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.