If there is no breakthrough with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid over the education ministry in the next few hours, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu will open expedited talks with Shas, sources in the Likud told Israel Radio this afternoon. The report did not indicate the exact time frame for the ultimatum, but Israel Radio indicated that the ultimatum had a 5 p.m. deadline today. Netanyahu has until Saturday night to present a government to President Shimon Peres. According to the report on Israel Radio, Netanyahu’s ultimatum calls for Lapid to “retreat from his excessive demands.”
Yesh Atid, for its part, released a statement via social media networks that the disagreements with the Likud were not only over ministerial portfolios, but more importantly, over the identity of Israeli society, and the education ministry is an important element of that. “Yesh Atid’s insistence on the education portfolio is based in the fact that the path to change the face of Israeli society runs mainly through this ministry. Portraying Yesh Atid as extortionist is itself a distortion,” the party said, adding that it would go into the opposition if it did not receive the education portfolio.
If Netanyahu wants to bring the charedim into the coalition instead of Yesh Atid, he would have to coordinate this with Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett, who until now has said he would refuse to join the coalition without Lapid. Netanyahu’s purported efforts to form a coalition with Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich and the charedim did not succeed. According to Channel 2 news, Netanyahu and Bennett met overnight Tuesday for a marathon negotiations session, during which Bennett telephoned Lapid several times to seek a breakthrough, but was unsuccessful.
Bennett, however, on Wednesday afternoon distanced himself from Netanyahu’s ultimatum to Lapid, saying on his Facebook page that “it won’t work.”
“I’ve seen a report that suggests the Likud has given my friend Yair Lapid an ultimatum. My friends in the Likud: forget it. It won’t work. There are differences. There is a need to talk and compromise. All of us, until a government is formed. There is a country to attend to,” Bennett wrote.
Habayit Hayehudi MKs declined to officially comment on the matter, but anonymously, party officials on Tuesday expressed anger at Lapid over his recent conduct during coalition talks and questioned why “he is dragging his feet.”
“All fundamental matters have been finalized,” the officials said. “[Lapid’s] current preoccupation with ministerial portfolios and [government] roles is unacceptable to us.”
Coalition talks are stuck over the education portfolio, which both Likud and Yesh Atid desperately want, for their own electoral and ideological reasons.
According to Israel Radio, there has been a significant bridging of gaps between Bennett and Netanyahu in the past few days. Habayit Hayehudi believes that Lapid has gone “one bridge too far,” and should be happy with the achievements he has already received.
MK Ayelet Shaked, number 5 on the Habayit Hayehudi list, told public radio on Wednesday that Lapid should treat Netanyahu “with more respect,” and remember that he, Netanyahu, is the prime minister, and not Lapid.
The question now is whether Netanyahu is bluffing or not, and whether Lapid calls the bluff.
Netanyahu has made no secret that he would prefer a coalition with Bennett, the charedi parties, and Hatnuah, and not with Lapid.
With coalition talks deadlocked and the Motzoei Shabbos deadline to establish a government approaching, the political situation is in flux. Although it appears the charedi parties will be left out of the coalition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Eli Yishai, one of Shas’ top political leaders, in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. Shas sources said that this was the third meeting between Netanyahu and Yishai over the past two days. No information was provided on what they discussed.
Political sources said that Netanyahu’s meetings with Yishai could be meant to pressure Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid into finalizing a coalition deal with Likud-Beytenu.
Likud-Beytenu officials said that if Yesh Atid were left out of the coalition, Bennett would receive the finance portfolio rather than Lapid.
On Tuesday, negotiators from Likud-Beytenu, Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi tried to hammer out agreements on the issues that remain on the table. These issues include the fates of the education and finance portfolios, as well as the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee. Lapid is also demanding that one of the two ministerial portfolios given to Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah party be taken away.
Lapid wants the No. 2 in his party, Rabbi Shai Piron, to get the education portfolio while Netanyahu is insisting that current Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar retain his job. Despite many hours of talks on the issue, no agreement has been reached. Likud-Beytenu negotiators offered a rotation deal, under which Sa’ar would serve as education minister for two years during which Piron would serve as interior minister. Sa’ar and Piron would then switch roles for the final two years of the government’s term. Yesh Atid negotiators rejected this offer.
On another point of contention, Likud-Beytenu, Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi are all demanding the chairmanship of the prestigious Knesset Finance Committee.
Given the agreement reached earlier this week that there will be only 20 ministers, the arithmetic shows that Hatnuah should relinquish one of the two ministerial portfolios it received in its coalition deal with Likud-Beytenu. Yesh Atid said that if Likud-Beytenu wants to honor its deal with Livni’s party, it should give up one of its own portfolios. Likud-Beytenu strongly rejected this idea, saying “we don’t have any extra [government] roles to hand out.”
Source: ISRAEL HAYOM