Prime minister eyeing deal with center-left, insiders say

Likud sources predict that post-election, Netanyahu will reject natural political partners in favor of parties that will approve unpopular budget cuts

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prefers to form a coalition with the center-left parties rather than the ultra-Orthodox and hard-right parties, Likud sources said in a Maariv report published on Monday.

Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu list is expected to cruise to an easy victory in January 22 voting, and most Israeli pundits have assumed the right-wing slate will seek to form a coalition with other right-leaning parties such as Jewish Home and Shas.

But an unnamed Likud source was quoted in Maariv saying Netanyahu will actually turn to parties on the center and left of the political spectrum to create a new government, assuming Likud-Beytenu garners at least 38 seats.

The source said the move would be designed to help the new government pass a budget, a process that Likud fears could get bogged down if the coalition is beholden to religious parties.

“Netanyahu will prefer to give up the ultra-Orthodox parties, mostly because of the economic policies he will need to bring in, that will include extremely harsh cutbacks,” a Likud source said. “With the ultra-Orthodox he would not be able to reach an agreement.”

On Saturday, senior Likud minister Moshe Ya’alon said the new government would look to be as wide as possible, opening the door for Likud to partner up with rivals from the other side of the aisle.

While Labor Party chief Shelly Yachimovich has committed to not join Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni, head of the fledgling Hatnua Party, has said she would be open to joining a Netanyahu-led government, provided the nationalist party Jewish Home was not given a hand to determine policy.

Yair Lapid, head of the new Yesh Atid party, has also not ruled out the possibility of joining Netanyahu.

Even the Kadima party, led by Shaul Mofaz, could be a coalition partner, if that party wins enough votes to cross the threshold, the sources said. Kadima, which briefly joined Netanyahu last year to create one of the largest national unity governments ever, stormed out of the government coalition with Likud in a dispute over universal national service.

“It is 99 percent certain Yair, Tzipi, and Mofaz are [on Netanyahu’s list],” the source said.

Only after exploring those options would Netanyahu approach either the ultra-Orthodox or the national religious Jewish Home party.

Current polls show Likud-Beytenu taking anywhere from 35 to 38 seats, with Hatnua and Yesh Atid hovering around eight to 11 Knesset spots each. Jewish Home is expected to be the third largest party, with around 14-15 seats, behind Labor, which is polling at 17-18 seats.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party, expected to get nine to 11 seats and considered by some a natural coalition partner for the Likud, has a keen interest in averting budget cuts that would sorely strain the ultra-Orthodox community, which is disproportionately dependent on state help.

With just eight days to go until the elections, Shas has publicly called on Netanyahu to hold coalition talks to close a deal before the nation goes to the ballot box. However, Likud has steadfastly refused to open negotiations before the elections.

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