Coalition negotiations may have already hit a snag, days before they are slated to officially begin.
The new Yesh Atid party, with 19 seats, is expected to be the second largest party in the new government, but faction head Yair Lapid said Sunday he would not negotiate with the Likud-Yisrael Beytenu official tasked with managing coalition talks.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud-Beytenu list took 31 seats, is widely expected to be tapped to form the next government by President Shimon Peres by the end of the week.
But Likud-Beytenu has raised the ire of some by appointing ousted Netanyahu confidante Natan Eshel to negotiate with other parties over entering the governing coalition.
Eshel was forced to resign his position as the prime minister’s bureau chief last February amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
On Thursday, the prime minister and Lapid met for two-and-a-half hours at Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem in what was described as “a very good atmosphere.” The two agreed to meet again in the near future.
However, on Sunday, Yesh Atid announced that it would not negotiate with Eshel, who was hand-picked last week by Netanyahu to head the Likud-Beytenu negotiation team.
As part of a plea bargain in the sexual harassment case, Eshel admitted to misconduct, received a “severe reprimand” and was forced to retire from public service.
However, Eshel has remained active behind the scenes, helping put together a short-lived Likud-Kadima national unity coalition last spring and now being put in charge of forming the next government.
Following Netanyahu’s appointment of Eshel, incoming Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg sent a letter to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein asking that he not allow Eshel’s return to public life.
She said that the appointment “permits violence against women” and sends a message that transgressions of this sort are not deemed severe.
In addition, nearly 4,000 people have “liked” a Facebook page started by feminist activist Revital Madar calling for women to refuse to serve in the government as long as Eshel remains active.
Netanyahu cannot formally open coalition negotiations until receiving the go ahead from Peres.
The president will receive the official election results on Wednesday from Central Elections Committee chairman Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, after which he will begin holding consultations with party heads to determine who will be given the first shot at forming a coalition.
Peres is expected to hold 48 hours of marathon meetings, starting with the leaders of the largest parties, working his way down the list and issuing a decision before the weekend.
Gabe Fisher contributed to this report.