Likud-Beytenu opening coalition talks with biggest fish: Lapid

Netanyahu’s faction to kick off negotiations hours after PM pledges to form as wide a government as possible

Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Shimon Peres, leaving a ceremony Saturday night. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Shimon Peres, leaving a ceremony Saturday night. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Coalition talks for the formation of Israel’s new government will officially kick off Sunday morning, with the ruling Likud-Yisrael Beytenu faction attempting to woo newcomers Yesh Atid.

Hours earlier, on Saturday night, President Shimon Peres gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the go ahead to attempt to form a governing coalition.

Netanyahu, whose Likud-Beytenu list took 31 seats in voting last month, has been widely expected to return to the driver’s seat.

The talks will take place at the Kfar Maccabiah hotel in Ramat Gan and will go in order of how many seats each party won. Sunday will kick off with Yesh Atid, Jewish Home and Shas meeting the Likud-Beytenu team.

Monday will see meetings between Likud Beytenu and United Torah Judaism, Hatnua and Kadima.

Not on the list is the Labor Party, which has already ruled out joining a Netanyahu-led coalition, far left-wing Meretz and the three Arab parties: Hadash, Ra’am-Ta’al and Balad.

Meretz leader Zahava Gal-on reiterated on Saturday that the left and her party, which won six seats in last month’s elections, would not be “a fig leaf” for a government of national stagnation. She said that a unity government is a government of “shuffling and standing in place.”

On Saturday night, Netanyahu said he would try to form as wide a coalition as possible while pledging to try to heal many of Israel’s internal divides — on equality of military service, on easing economic burdens, and on electoral reform — “without tearing the nation apart.”

Netanyahu also said neutralizing the Iranian nuclear threat would be his government’s first task, and his government would work toward peace with the Palestinians.

The speech was likely a nod to the Yesh Atid party, which campaigned on a platform of socioeconomic reform and drafting the ultra-Orthodox. The fresh-faced party, which journalist-cum-politician Yair Lapid led to 19 seats, will be the biggest fish Netanayhu tries to reel in.

The talks Sunday and Monday will likely revolve around learning various factions demands in exchange for joining the coalition and what the parties positions are. Though talks official kick off Sunday, they have been going on informally since election results were announced on January 22.

On Saturday night, Yesh Atid celebrated the party’s surprisingly strong showing, with Lapid telling those gathered that his party’s success heralded the coming of a new politics.

“It’s a new world,” he said. “Facebook has replaced the town square. The old definitions of left and right don’t apply anymore.”

Media reports have indicated that the prime minister is willing to offer Lapid the finance or foreign affairs portfolios, though the party will reportedly also demand the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee, traditionally held by the ultra-Orthodox UTJ.

The nationalist Jewish Home party, the fourth largest with 12 seats, is also angling to join the coalition, though a personal tiff between Netanyahu and party leader Naftali Bennett may throw a wrench in those plans. 

Ultra-Orthodox Shas, which sat in Netanyahu’s coalition over the last three years, has made no bones about its desire to join the government, though doing so might mean compromising on the ultra-Orthodox draft.

Party leader Aryeh Deri wrote on his Facebook wall Sunday morning that Shas intends to make effort necessary to advance a solution to the draft issue that “prevents a national rift,” echoing a phrase used by Netanyahu the night before.

“I am wholly hopeful that we will succeed in arriving at an understanding that will provide a response for all Israeli citizens,” he said.

On Saturday night, party leader Eli Yishai said his party likely would not be welcomed to sit alongside Yesh Atid and therefore end up in the opposition.

“I believe Netanyahu prefers [Lapid],” he said. “I believe there is a 30 percent chance we will be in [the coalition] and a 70 percent chance we won’t be.”

The Likud-Beytenu negotiation team includes Isaac Molho, Netanyahu’s unofficial envoy to the Palestinians, and lawyers David Shimron and Yoav Mani, as well as former Prime Minister’s Office head Moshe Laon.

Netanyahu has 28 days to form a coalition according to the law, though he can request an extension from Peres if need be.

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