Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid and Jewish Home party chair Naftali Bennett have reportedly come to an agreement regarding which ministerial portfolios each party will demand as a condition of joining a coalition with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu party.
With less than two weeks left to form a government, Netanyahu appears to have no choice but to team up with Jewish Home and Yesh Atid, and Likud sources said Monday they expected an agreement by week’s end.
Yesh Atid will ask for the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Education and Social Affairs. In addition, Lapid will seek to have his party chair the Knesset’s finance and constitution committees, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Monday. For his part, Bennett will seek the Industry, Housing and Religious Affairs ministries, and possibly one additional portfolio, the report said.
One complication may lie in the fact Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, whose party ran with Netanyahu’s Likud on a joint slate in the recent elections, has indicated that Netanyahu is holding the foreign minister post for him. Liberman stepped down as foreign minister after his indictment late last year on charges of fraud and breach of trust and has indicated that he will only rejoin the Cabinet if he is exonerated.
Lapid and Bennett have also expressed reservations regarding a pact Likud-Beytenu made with Hatnua, which granted the centrist party’s leader, Tzipi Livni, the role of justice minister and chief of negotiations with the Palestinians.
In addition to the Cabinet portfolios, Lapid has made it clear that he wants Netanyahu to establish a government with a significantly smaller number of ministries than the current 30. Initially, he demanded that the number of ministers be restricted to 18, but is now willing to allow as many as 24.
Yesh Atid garnered 19 Knesset seats in the January 22 election, second only to Likud-Beytenu’s 31. It has been working together with the 12-seat Jewish Home party to demand new legislation to draft most ultra-Orthodox young men. The ultra-Orthodox parties are opposed to such a drastic change, and Netanyahu has thus far been unable to resolve this and other differences between his potential coalition partners.
On Sunday, the prime minister held a three-hour meeting with Bennett and Liberman. The meeting was described afterward as “positive and productive” by Jewish Home officials. The three party leaders discussed a universal draft and the possibility of having Jewish Home join the governing coalition, but made no clear breakthrough.
In a meeting on Sunday with Shas heads Eli Yishai, Aryeh Deri and Ariel Atias, Netanyahu said he’d like to see the ultra-Orthodox party join the coalition, but that “political complications” were standing in his way.
Netanyahu received on Saturday a 14-day extension to form a government from President Shimon Peres. The prime minister now has until March 16 to form a governing coalition, or see the task assigned to a rival politician or face new elections.
Sources in Likud, as well as in the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, have accused the Lapid-Bennett bloc faction of “boycotting” the ultra-Orthodox by refusing to sit in a coalition with them.
On Monday morning, MK Shai Piron, number 2 on the Yesh Atid list, dismissed the accusations.
“The fact that the Haredim will sit in the opposition certainly does not mean that we hate them,” Piron told Channel 10. “There is no boycott and exclusion of a community… it is a matter of ideological disagreement.”
Piron said there has been a “long history of conduct among the ultra-Orthodox that has led to unacceptable behavior,” noting that Yesh Atid wants to make changes “not without the Haredim, but without Haredi politics.”
Comparing the current situation to a soccer match, Piron said that “sometimes a person has to receive a yellow card” — a warning — in order to make a substantial change, “and that is what has happened.”