Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid denied early on Thursday reports that he was holding coalition talks hostage over his demands to assume the post of foreign minister.
Lapid said he and negotiation partner Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party would never issue an “ultimatum” to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the issue of the distribution of ministerial posts.
“It’s incorrect and disrespectful,” Lapid said. “Netanyahu is the one who is forming the government and none of us would present an ultimatum to the prime minister of Israel.”
On Wednesday, coalition talks between Yesh Atid and Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu faction broke down after Lapid refused to accept the finance portfolio, according to sources inside the Likud negotiating team.
Lapid canceled a scheduled meeting early on Wednesday, torpedoing an upbeat assessment from within Likud that a deal to form a government was imminent.
Lapid is reportedly demanding the Foreign Ministry, but Netanyahu has reserved the post for the faction’s number two, Avigdor Liberman, who stepped down from the post late last year to fight fraud and breach of trust charges. On Wednesday, the attorney general said it was legal for Netanyahu to hold the ministry for an indicted MK.
Earlier, Likud sources told Army Radio that Lapid was “obsessing” about becoming foreign minister, “which isn’t going to happen,” that Likud was furious with him for canceling the scheduled talks earlier in the day, and that it was bizarre that he didn’t want to be finance minister “since his whole campaign was about making sure money was spent only in the right places.”
Lapid, who is also demanding a smaller Cabinet and that the ultra-Orthodox be drafted into national service, wrote on Facebook that the talk about ministerial posts was beside the point.
“The discussion is not about seats but about the essence,” he wrote. “We want to finally get an answer about the plan to [draft the ultra-Orthodox]. We want them to answer the question of why when they want to make drastic budget cuts they want to form a bloated government of 28 ministers that will waste hundreds of millions of shekels.”
With both Yesh Atid and Jewish Home apparently on the verge of joining the government, coalition talks have been focusing on who gets which of the top three ministerial positions — defense, finance, and foreign affairs — but a dispute has also arisen over the number of ministers there will be.
According to Israel Radio, Likud-Beytenu has its sights set on a government composed of up to 25 ministers. Yesh Atid, led by political newcomer Lapid, has drawn the line at a more modest 20.
In another version, Yesh Atid sources told Ynet that Likud insists the government have 28 ministers, whereas Lapid’s party wants 10 fewer than that. The previous government under Netanyahu had 30 ministers and nine deputy ministers.
Lapid on Thursday indicated that Likud-Beytenu was engaging in “spin and leaks,” a constant refrain by the parties as coalition talks drag into their second month.
“They still don’t get that the era of spin and leaks is over, and the public wants clean politics that deals with the real issues,” he wrote.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.
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