Netanyahu to Arab parties: I am PM for all Israelis

On second day of coalition talks, Jewish Home and Shas spar; Likud-Beytenu representatives meet with Hatnua and Kadima

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with representatives of the Knesset’s Arab parties Monday, telling them that even though they were committed to remaining in the opposition, he nonetheless planned on representing them while in office.

Monday marked the second day of coalition talks for Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu faction, which is attempting to form a ruling government. Representatives met with the Kadima and Hatnua parties.

As the talks intensify, friction is growing between potential partners. Jewish Home sources denied reports Monday that their hardline religious party would partner with Yesh Atid and go into opposition if its demands were not met, but also tussled with ultra-Orthodox Shas.

Jewish Home’s incoming MK Ayelet Shaked said on Army Radio that Shas had denounced her party as the “gentiles’ home” because of its insistence that the ultra-Orthodox perform national service, and said that the insults would not deter her party from demanding that all Israelis face the draft. A Shas official reiterated that the party would go into the opposition if necessary and still find a way to effectively represent its voters.

Netanyahu told Hadash party head MK Mohammed Barakeh that he sees himself as the prime minister of all Israelis, including those whose party, like Barakeh’s, would remain resolutely outside the government. Netanyahu added that the development of the country’s Arab communities was important to him.

Barakeh wrote on the Hadash party website that the prime minister’s assessments were correct. “In light of the Hadash party’s political, economic and social views, we represent a political position opposite that of the government, and will therefore act as an actively fighting opposition.”

Netanyahu also spoke on Monday with the heads of the Balad and Ra’am-Ta’al parties, to whom he also stressed that as prime minister he would continue to safeguard the interests of all Israelis, Israel Radio reported.

On Saturday night, President Shimon Peres charged Netanyahu with the task of forging the next coalition, and on Sunday, members of the prime minister’s party met with counterparts from Yesh Atid, Jewish Home and Shas.

On Monday, Hatnua reportedly said it would join the coalition only if Livni was given responsibility for the country’s diplomatic iniatives.

In the January 22 elections, the joint Likud-Beytenu list garnered 31 seats in the next Knesset, followed by Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party with 19, the Labor Party with 15, and Jewish Home, headed by Naftali Bennett, with 12. Shas won 11 seats. United Torah Judaism won 7 seats, Meretz and Hatnua 6 each, Hadash and Ra’am-Ta’al 4 each, Balad 3 and Kadima 2.

Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich announced in late January that her party would remain in the opposition.

The prime minister has 28 days to put together a coalition.  If he is unable to do so in that time, the president can either give him a two-week extension or offer the opportunity to another party head to attempt to build a new government.

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