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Rivlin to launch coalition building talks on Sunday

Likud laughs off Liberman’s demand for defense portfolio; Zionist Union leader readies his party for opposition

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin casts his vote at a polling station in Jerusalem on March 17, 2015. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin casts his vote at a polling station in Jerusalem on March 17, 2015. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin, charged with choosing the political leader to give the first shot at forming a government, notified each of the parties on Wednesday that he intended to begin consultations with the various Knesset factions at the beginning of next week.

An official letter, sent by President’s Residence a day after Israel’s national elections, informed the parties that Rivlin was to start meeting with their representatives on Sunday.

“It is the president’s intention to open the round of consultations already at the beginning of next week, out of an effort to conclude the process of establishing the new government as early as possible – in order to ensure the citizens of Israel have the assurance of a fully functioning government, in the face of the present challenges which lie before the State of Israel,” the letter read.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, which was en route to win 30 of the Knesset’s 120 seats after 99 percent of the votes had been counted, is the natural first choice to form a coalition.

Less than 24 hours after the ballot boxes closed, maneuvers for government seats had already begun. The Likud party said in a statement that Netanyahu had phoned the Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett, Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman, Kulanu’s Moshe Kahlon, Shas’s Aryeh Deri and United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman.

Based on the current count, a coalition between these parties would be 67 seats strong.

Netanyahu’s main rival, Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, appeared to rule out the option entering a Likud government when he declared Wednesday that his party would serve in the opposition.

Zionist Union leaders MKs Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni at a press conference in Tel Aviv, March 18, 2015. (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Zionist Union leaders MKs Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni at a press conference in Tel Aviv, March 18, 2015. (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“We have proven that we know how to be a vigorous opposition and what is emerging at the moment as the only real possibility is that of heading to the opposition,” said Herzog before a meeting of the Zionist Union in Tel Aviv.

The first casualty of coalition jostling was Liberman, the outgoing foreign minister, who made it clear that he wanted to be the defense minister in Netanyahu’s cabinet, a demand that was ridiculed by a Likud source.

“It is about time that he understood that there can be a coalition without him,” the source said, according to the Hebrew-language NRG website. “He will not be defense minister. There is a coalition and a right-wing majority even without him. [Moshe] Ya’alon will remain defense minister and we suggest that Liberman internalize his new position.”

Earlier in the day Liberman exclaimed that he would demand the prestigious defense portfolio in exchange for joining Netanyahu’s coalition.

“Our demands are clear, we never hid them and put it in writing, and it includes the defense portfolio,” he told the Ynet news site. “We don’t want to be the opposition, but we also won’t [simply join the] coalition at any cost.”

Although there have been no formal announcements, Moshe Kahlon, who led his Kulanu party to 10 seats, will likely be appointed as Israel’s next finance minister, after Netanyahu promised him the post.

Kahlon, who was largely seen as the kingmaker in the hotly contested election, said that he would be waiting for the final results to come in before beginning negotiations.

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