With only 12 days left to present his new government to the president and no deals yet signed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scrambled on Friday to secure a ruling coalition while negotiating the conflicting interests of his potential partners.
An agreement with Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party is reported to be all but finalized, but securing similar deals with Jewish Home and Yisrael Beytenu continues to present a challenge.
Netanyahu and Kahlon reportedly reached an agreement — just before Memorial Day — on Kulanu joining the coalition. Kulanu will receive three ministries: the Finance Ministry, the Construction and Housing Ministry and the Environmental Protection Ministry. The prime minister is also said to have conceded to Kahlon’s demand to shelve legislation that would restrict the powers of the Supreme Court, laws which Kahlon opposes.
But a major stumbling block remains in the form of Jewish Home and Shas’s wrangling over the Religious Affairs portfolio. Jewish Home held the office in the outgoing government, but Netanyahu’s reported promise to now deliver the ministry to Aryeh Deri’s ultra-Orthodox party has enraged Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett.
Yedioth Ahronoth reported earlier in the week that Netanyahu made bargains with ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism shortly before the last Knesset was dispersed, and is now having a hard time accommodating those agreements with the demands of the other parties.
Netanyahu will meet on Friday with Bennett, who on Monday tweeted that “taking the Religious Affairs portfolio from religious Zionism unilaterally and handing it over to Shas is the end of negotiations with Jewish Home.”
According to Israel Radio, the Likud has offered a compromise by which the minister will be from Shas, while his deputy will be a Bennett appointee. However, neither party has so far agreed to such a deal.
Meanwhile, right-wing secular nationalist party Yisrael Beytenu has also presented Netanyahu with a problem, due to its staunch opposition to rolling back legislation on universal national service for the ultra-Orthodox and reforms of the state conversion and marriage registration systems, matters which Shas and UTJ seek to change. If Netanyahu concedes these issues to Shas and UTJ, party officials told Ynet that Yisrael Beytenu has no qualms about joining the opposition.
Netanyahu also met Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman on Friday, though there was no immediate news of progress from that meeting.
While Yisrael Beytenu and Jewish Home’s tough stances have led the Likud to threaten that they may be left out altogether, Kahlon has indicated that he would not agree to such a move.
Likud negotiator Ze’ev Elkin on Friday called on Jewish Home and Yisrael Beytenu to show flexibility. Speaking to Israel Radio, Elkin urged the parties to act responsibly, and to understand that all sides would be required to compromise in order to form a government.
“We are on the home stretch, and if parties of the national camp (meaning right-wing parties) want a government from the national camp to be formed, they need to move forward in the negotiation process,” he said.
Netanyahu has until May 7 to complete the negotiations and establish his new government. Under Israeli election rules, if Netanyahu fails to form a coalition by that date, President Reuven Rivlin can assign someone else the task of doing so.
While it is technically possible for the center-left Zionist Union to establish a coalition, it is unlikely that it would have an easier time doing so. If no one succeeds in forming a coalition, the president would be left with no choice but to order new elections.
“We’ve moved forward, and we’re well on our way,” Netanyahu said Monday morning, “but more time is needed to make sure (the government) is a stable one, and to reach agreement on a number of important (issues) that will enable us to tackle the challenges facing the State of Israel.”
The legislation which the Likud had planned to advance — and which Kahlon vetoed — included a bill that would severely limit the Supreme Court’s ability to annul bills passed by the Knesset, as well as allow the plenum to re-legislate laws shot down by the court; and a bill that would change the makeup of the Judicial Selection Committee to give the government increased clout in the process.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu has also been reported to be flirting with the idea of reaching out to his main dovish rivals in the Zionist Union to form a unity government. But both sides have denied this, and with only 12 days remaining, beginning negotiations for such a move now seems unlikely.
AP contributed to this report.