Starting Wednesday, all eyes will be on the President’s Residence in Jerusalem as Israel’s number one citizen holds meetings with the representatives of all elected parties before determining who to task with forming the coalition following last week’s elections.
At 5:30 p.m., Central Elections Committee chairman Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein is scheduled to present Peres with the official election results. Immediately afterwards, Peres will meet, one by one, with representatives of the elected parties, beginning with the party that garnered the most votes — the joint Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list with 31 seats — who will be represented by Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin, ministers Gilad Erdan, Gideon Sa’ar, and Yuval Steinitz, as well as MKs David Rotem and Robert Ilatov. Next will come the representatives of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, who received a surprising 19 seats in the January 22 elections.
The remaining party representatives will meet with Peres on Thursday, with Kadima, which won two Knesset seats, arriving last.
The president’s spokeswoman said the office is prepared to facilitate the media in covering the marathon talks, enabling the public to receive fast and accurate updates on the proceedings.
Peres is expected to announce his decision on Thursday evening or Friday morning, officially launching coalition negotiations, which have been taking place tentatively from the moment exit polls were announced at 10 p.m. on Tuesday.
With more than 80 prospective MKs expected to back the current prime minister, it is all but certain that Peres will place the task of forming the coalition on Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
The prime minister enjoys the support of Likud-Beytenu (31 seats), Yesh Atid (19), Jewish Home (12), Shas (11), (United Torah Judaism (7), and Kadima (2). The remaining parties, Labor (15), Meretz (6), Hatnua (6), Hadash (4), Ra’am-Ta’al (4) and Balad (3) are not expected to recommend anybody.
Assuming he is selected, Netanyahu will have 28 days to complete the wheeling and dealing needed to form a coalition. If he is unable to do so in the allotted time, the president can give him a 14-day extension.
Netanyahu has already met with Lapid, whose party is expected to be the main coalition partner. He has also held informal talks with the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties.
The prime ministers set out the principles on which the next government will be formed in a brief press conference a day after the elections. He listed the needs for a more equitable distribution of the national burden, affordable housing, and changing the system of government as his would-be coalition’s three top priorities.
“We woke up this morning to a clear message from the public: it wants me to form a government that will bring about great internal changes,” Netanyahu told reporters. “I spoke to (Likud-Beytenu No. 2) Avigdor Liberman and we decided that we will focus our talks on these three core issues, in addition to maintaining Israel’s security, in an effort to build as broad a coalition as possible.”
The new focus on social issues is a departure from the prime minister’s pre-election campaign, which focused nearly exclusively on security matters. The sharing of the national burden is a code term for universal conscription into the army or civil service, which would end a decades-old de facto exemption of the ultra-Orthodox from such service and which is the main bone of contention between the secular-centrist Yesh Atid and the religious parties Shas and United Torah Judaism.
One of the most interesting questions ahead for the coalition talks is which Cabinet portfolio Netanyahu will offer Lapid. Commanding 19 Knesset seats, the former news anchor can expect to receive one of the three most senior portfolios: defense, finance, or foreign affairs, and according to media reports, Netanyahu has already offered him his pick of the latter two. However in the horse-trading that makes up Israeli coalition talks, nothing is certain.