Peres to wait till Saturday night to ask Netanyahu to form new government

75 incoming MKs from four parties back PM; UTJ says it supports anyone who backs its agenda, but asks president to greenlight formal coalition talks only after Shabbat

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

President Shimon Peres meets with United Torah Judaism's Yaakov Litzman, in Jerusalem, January 31 (photo credit: Mark Nayman/GPO/Flash90)
President Shimon Peres meets with United Torah Judaism's Yaakov Litzman, in Jerusalem, January 31 (photo credit: Mark Nayman/GPO/Flash90)

The President’s Office announced Thursday that Shimon Peres would hold off on officially launching coalition talks until Saturday night, as requested by the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party. Peres was originally scheduled to make the announcement on Friday morning.

Seventy-five of the next Knesset’s members recommended Wednesday and Thursday that Peres task incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with forming the next coalition. The president completed talks with representatives of all the parties on Thursday evening.

On Thursday morning Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich told Peres her party had no one it could recommend as prime minister, but said Labor, which earned 15 seats in the January 22 elections, would be a “responsible” opposition, supporting Israel’s security needs and any move that could advance the peace process with the Palestinians.

Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, commanding 12 Knesset seats, recommended that Netanyahu lead the next coalition. “Throughout the entire [election] campaign we said we’d name him and nothing’s changed,” Bennett told Peres Thursday.

Bennett later met with Likud-Beytenu’s No. 2 Avigdor Liberman to discuss coalition terms.

The trio of leaders from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, with their 11 seats, also named Netanyahu as the next prime minister. Eli Yishai, Aryeh Deri and Ariel Atias also presented Peres with a letter from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in which he called upon the president to help heal the rift that was tearing apart the Jewish people in Israel.

UTJ’s Yaakov Litzman told Peres his party would pledge its seven seats to anyone who allowed it to advance the agenda it promised its voters. In its first post-election political move, the ultra-Orthodox party requested the president summon the next prime minister Saturday night, not Friday.

Naming the man who will form the coalition on Friday was a sure recipe to have people working on the Sabbath, Yaakov Litzman explained. The president of Israel needs to unite, not divide, the Jews, he added.

Both Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni and Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-on said after meeting the president that they did not recommend anyone for the job.

“The Hatnua party was established to return the need for a resumption of peace talks to the political table,” said Livni, a former foreign minister whose party garnered six Knesset seats. “This is going to be the test for any government that is formed.”

“I am worried that the coalition as it is shaping up will forgo the two-state solution in favor of a binational state,” said Gal-on, whose left-wing party also won six seats.

Arab parties Ra’am-Ta’al, Hadash and Balad did not recommend anybody either.

Peres held his last meeting of the day with Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz. Mofaz, who stands at the head of the party that won the fewest amount of Knesset seats, only two, also recommended Netanyahu for the task of forming the 33rd government.

On Wednesday, Peres met with the two largest factions. Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar led the 31-seat-strong Likud-Beytenu delegation to the president’s residence and said there was a need for a broad and stable coalition.

“The political reality is quite clear,” said Sa’ar. “Only one man, one candidate has the ability to establish a government in Israel that is as stable and broad as possible.”

Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, with 19 seats, was the second party to meet the president.

After the meeting, Lapid said he had recommended Netanyahu for prime minister as a matter of principle, and by doing so hoped to avoid some of the power play that often follows elections as parties jockey for positions in the coalition.

“In our platform it says that the person who should form the next government is the leader of the largest party, and we mean it,” Lapid said. “This is the new politics, which doesn’t deal with what is good for the party but rather with what is good for the state.”

Once given the go-ahead, Netanyahu will have 28 days to complete the political wheeling and dealing needed to form a coalition. If he is unable to do so in the allotted time, the president can give him a 14-day extension.

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