Netanyahu asks president for more time to put together government

Likud head says ministerial postings and other assignments still being finalized, but is widely expected to succeed and return to power; Herzog set to okay 2-week extension

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and President Isaac Herzog at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, November 13, 2022 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and President Isaac Herzog at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, November 13, 2022 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday formally asked President Isaac Herzog for the maximal extension of two weeks to finish forming a government that he is slated to lead, saying that the complexity of cobbling together his coalition required extra time.

Netanyahu’s 28-day mandate to assemble a government expires at midnight on Sunday night. With the contours of his alliance essentially known even before the November 1 vote, Netanyahu had sought to put together a governing coalition within days. Instead, he has found himself mired in squabbles with the right-wing and religious parties that make up his bloc of supporters in the Knesset.

In a letter to Herzog, Netanyahu noted his Likud party had signed tentative deals with all the parties expected to join his coalition, but issues remained regarding the distribution of ministerial and Knesset committee assignments. The letter appeared to indicate that agreements have already been reached on the nascent government’s agenda, and Netanyahu is widely expected to ultimately resolve remaining differences with the far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties in his parliamentary bloc, secure Knesset approval for his new coalition, and take office in the coming weeks.

“Because all the factions require the signing of full coalition agreements as a condition for the distribution of roles, these agreements include reference to many and complex issues of principle,” Netanyahu wrote to Herzog. “Negotiations are in full swing and much progress has been made. However, I will require all the days of extension that you have the power to give me according to the law so that I can form the government.”

A two-week extension is allowed by law and customarily approved. Herzog is widely expected to grant it, though he has the authority to permit a lesser amount of time as well.

Netanyahu is now expected to attempt a complicated legislative blitz before his government is sworn in, to enable the myriad agreements he has made to be honored.

Likud head MK Benjamin Netanyahu seen after coalition talks outside a hotel in Jerusalem, December 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Tuesday, he reportedly yelled that MK Moshe Gafni of the United Torah Judaism party was torpedoing the chances of forming a government, after the ultra-Orthodox lawmaker said he would not sign an interim deal that Netanyahu could take to Herzog in order to show progress in the talks.

Responding to Netanyahu’s extension request, Yesh Atid called it a sign of the longtime premier’s “weakness” in coalition talks.

“Even after he’s given out everything, he still has trouble forming a government and asks for an extension. It will be interesting to see what else can be squeezed out of Netanyahu,” the party, led by outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid, said in a statement.

Netanyahu and the right-religious bloc he leads won 64 of the 120 Knesset seats in general elections last month.

Early Thursday, Likud and the ultra-Orthodox Shas party reached an agreement on the cabinet posts that the latter will receive in the next government, completing the last of such deals with Netanyahu’s coalition partners.

Like the deals Likud has signed with the Haredi United Torah Judaism and far-right Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit and Noam factions, the agreement with Shas was only an interim deal and all of the parties are still negotiating terms of their final coalition agreements.

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