The Jewish Home party’s coalition brokers met Friday with Likud-Beytenu’s team, as talks on a new government continued more than a month after Knesset elections were held.
Representatives of Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party were expected to demand the revocation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s agreement with Hatnua chief Tzipi Livni, whereby Livni joins a Likud-led coalition in exchange for the Justice Ministry portfolio and heading peace talks with the Palestinians.
Bennett has been an outspoken critic of such negotiations, and his party represents a cross-section of voters who are largely opposed to a two-state solution along pre-1967 lines.
On Wednesday, Bennett attacked Livni’s past role in negotiations with the Palestinians, including her purported willingness to divide Jerusalem and hand the West Bank city of Ariel to the Palestinians. (Livni denies both assertions.)
Also on Wednesday, the Jewish Home made it clear that an alliance formed with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, according to which both parties would either join the government together or join the opposition, remains firm.
“The pact with Lapid is iron-clad,” party sources said. “We would rather have new elections than join the government without him.”
Talk of new elections has been hovering over coalition negotiations this week, with threats reportedly coming from Likud-Beytenu, as well.
Moshe Klughaft, a member of Jewish Home’s negotiating team, responded to those threats on Friday, urging the largest faction in the Knesset to fulfill the will of the electorate.
Instead of making empty threats about new elections, it is necessary to start talking about fulfilling the will of the people in these elections, he told Israel Radio.
Klughaft emphasized that the entry of Jewish Home and Yesh Atid into a Netanyahu-led coalition would be based on negotiated principles and not on the handing out of government portfolios.
Representatives of Likud-Beytenu were scheduled to meet with representatives of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party on Friday afternoon. Lapid has previously indicated that he will not join a coalition that includes Shas.
A Knesset Channel poll published Thursday found that if Netanyahu ultimately fails to assemble a coalition, and new elections are subsequently called, Yesh Atid would win a staggering 30 seats, overtaking Netanyahu’s freefalling Likud-Beytenu as the Knesset’s largest faction.
To date, Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu (31 seats) has drawn only Livni’s Hatnua (6) into the coalition. On Thursday, leaders of Yesh Atid (19), Jewish Home (12) and Kadima (2) held talks at which they resolved not to join the coalition without a commitment from Netanyahu to legislate for the conscription of most ultra-Orthodox young men.
If these parties hold to that position, and Labor (15 seats) remains resolute about going into the opposition, Netanyahu would find it impossible to garner a Knesset majority even with both ultra-Orthodox parties — Shas (11 seats) and United Torah Judaism (7). His aides remain optimistic that the Yesh Atid-Jewish Home alliance can yet be broken. He has until the beginning of March to form a coalition, but can also ask for a 14-day extension from President Shimon Peres.