Coalition talks

Party leaders summit ends, negotiation teams carry on talks

Yair Lapid tells reporters ‘talks going well’; parties hope to resolve differences, usher in new government later this week

The Sunday night meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Jewish Home chief Naftali Bennett concluded shortly after midnight. The party leaders met for an hour and a half, leaving behind their representatives in the hopes of resolving the remaining gaps in coalition terms and possibly finalizing a deal by Monday morning.

The meeting was called after sources close to Yesh Atid and Likud-Beytenu traded barbs Sunday evening as talks got stuck over the final distribution of ministerial posts, the number of ministers to enter the government and the drafting of new rules for universal military conscription.

Yesh Atid said large gaps still remained and Likud-Beytenu accused Lapid of reneging or pulling talks backwards over demands for new universal draft legislation.

On his way out of the meeting, Lapid told Walla News that the talks were going well and the negotiators would be keeping at it. “I’m sure I’ll be back before the night is out,” said the Yesh Atid leader.

Representatives from Likud-Yisrael Beytenu, Yesh Atid and Jewish Home had held marathon talks Sunday afternoon to hash out the final details of a coalition deal, after a night-long meeting Saturday night and into Sunday morning failed to yield conclusive results.

While most issues were said to have been resolved, the sides still needed to work out the final distribution of ministerial posts, among other issues, with Yesh Atid and Likud both apparently aiming to hold the education portfolio.

Likud was reportedly determined to see party member and current Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar maintain his position, while Yesh Atid would like the post to go to MK Rabbi Shai Piron.

Israel Radio reported that “some progress” had been made.

Hopes have run high in the last several days for a new government to be sworn in by mid-week.

Speaking to members of his Yisrael Beytenu faction Sunday afternoon, MK Avigdor Liberman said he was certain a new government would be sworn in this week, Army Radio reported.

Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bade farewell to his Cabinet, expressing confidence in the imminence of a coalition deal.

“This is probably the final meeting of this government,” Netanyahu said at the opening of the weekly Cabinet session. “I wish to thank all of the ministers for their fantastic work over the past four years.”

The meeting was shunned by the outgoing ministers from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party — Eli Yishai, Ariel Atias, Yaakov Margi, and Meshulam Nahari — who have been fuming over their exclusion from a coalescing government that they perceive as being anti-Haredi.

At a meeting of Likud ministers before the Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that most of the policy principles for the next government had been agreed upon, and all that remained was to settle the matter of ministerial portfolios.

At the opening of the Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu praised the outgoing government’s achievements, saying, “This government will be remembered as one that achieved more than almost any other government in Israel’s history.”

Speaking of his presumptive next Cabinet, Netanyahu added, “I expect the ministers of the next government to take a cue from your dedication… Your work can serve as an example for the next government.”

At the marathon Saturday-Sunday talks, one of the final sticking points appeared to be a disagreement between the largely secular Yesh Atid and religious-hardline Jewish Home regarding an initiative to provide public transportation on Saturday. Another issue that was holding up a deal was Bennett’s demand for the Public Diplomacy Ministry in addition to the position of industry, trade and labor minister.

Shas party leader Yishai wrote on Facebook Saturday night that a coalition agreement without his ultra-Orthodox party was a fait accompli, and that his party’s exclusion from the government was a bitter moment for the state of Israel.

“The 2013 elections will be remembered as the day in which the entire public shunned the traditional and ultra-Orthodox Jews because of their beliefs and views,” Yishai wrote. “Kind words cannot sweeten the conflict and the deep rift that was created during the present period, but it will be remembered for many years to come.”

“With raised heads and with pride we will go to the opposition,” he said.

The coalition will likely comprise Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu (31 seats), Yesh Atid (19), Jewish Home (12), Hatnua (6) and Kadima (2), for a total of 70. Labor (15) would lead the opposition, in which the two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas (11) and United Torah Judaism (7), would also sit, sources said.

The sources added that Lapid, who had hoped to become foreign minister, will instead serve as finance minister. The Foreign Ministry post will be kept open for former FM Avigdor Liberman, who resigned in December to fight corruption charges and hopes to return quickly to the post after clearing his name. “It was always clear” that the foreign portfolio would remain in the hands of Yisrael Beytenu, Liberman said Sunday.

The defense minister will likely be former IDF chief of the General Staff Moshe Ya’alon (Likud); Housing could well go to Jewish Home’s Uri Ariel, while the same party’s Eli Ben Dahan could take Religious Affairs; and Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz could become minister of welfare.

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