Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to tell President Reuven Rivlin late Wednesday night that he has managed to cobble together a 61-strong coalition — the minimal number required for a Knesset majority.
Netanyahu was understood to have capitulated to the demands of the final recalcitrant coalition partner, the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home, and agreed to appoint party leader Naftali Bennett as education minister, MK Ayelet Shaked as justice minister, and another Jewish Home member, Uri Ariel, to a third ministry, possibly agriculture.
Shaked, 39, has only been in politics for two years. Netanyahu and Bennett were still negotiating Wednesday — the final day allocated to the Likud leader to form a government — over the scope of her authority in the job. Shaked will also have a seat in the key decision-making security cabinet, by virtue of being justice minister.
Netanyahu is likely to appoint several senior Likud colleagues to the security cabinet too, to offset their unhappiness at missing out on top cabinet posts, and to ensure that the security cabinet supports him on key decisions.
Netanyahu was understood to be keeping the Foreign Ministry portfolio for himself, in the hope of later giving it to Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog. Israel’s Channel 2 reported Wednesday night that Netanyahu really wanted Zionist Union, and not Jewish Home, in the coalition all along, and offered Herzog the post of deputy prime minister. However, Netanyahu did not want Herzog’s colleague Tzipi Livni in his coalition, and Herzog rebuffed his overtures, the TV report said. Likud and Zionist Union both immediately denied the report.
Under election law, Netanyahu must tell Rivlin before midnight on Wednesday that he has managed to form a coalition, but he has until next Wednesday to actually get it sworn in by the Knesset.
Netanyahu’s Likud won 30 seats in the election six weeks ago, and he has already signed up United Torah Judaism (six seats), Kulana (10) and Shas (seven) for a total of 53. Jewish Home’s eight seats would give him the narrowest of majorities: 61 seats in the 120-member Knesset.
Shas leader Aryeh Deri on Tuesday urged Herzog to join the coalition, and enable “a socioeconomic government,” but Herzog has insisted he will lead a spirited opposition.
Likud’s own Knesset speaker, Yuli Edelstein, on Tuesday conceded that a 61-strong coalition would present “a string of problems,” but acknowledged there may be no choice, and said Netanyahu could make “every effort” later on to sign on more partners.
Netanyahu himself said Tuesday that “61 is a good number; 61-plus is a better number.”
Netanyahu’s calculations were drastically changed when Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman announced Monday that he was resigning and that his six-seat-strong Yisrael Beytenu party would sit in the opposition.
If Bennett and Netanyahu don’t reach an agreement before Wednesday at midnight, three scenarios are possible: Rivlin may give Herzog a chance to form a left-led coalition; Netanyahu and Herzog could try to put together a unity coalition, an easy prospect mathematically given the parties’ sizes, but a difficult prospect politically; or Rivlin could call new elections, just weeks after the previous ballot.
The Likud formally signed its agreement with Shas on Monday night, giving the ultra-Orthodox party the Economy Ministry, the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, the post of deputy finance minister and the chairmanship of the Knesset Education Committee.
The ruling faction signed coalition deals with Kulanu and United Torah Judaism last week.