United States officials have told Israel that if there is no new government in place by March 16, President Barack Obama will not arrive for his scheduled visit four days later, Channel 10 News reported on Thursday.
According to the report, if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu fails to form a coalition by the aforementioned date, the Americans will say that Obama’s visit is being postponed, but in essence the visit will be cancelled. The U.S. ambassador to Israel has been making phone calls and holding conversations with Israeli officials in recent days, trying to figure out how the coalition talks are advancing, said the report.
The negotiations continued on Thursday, with Likud meeting Yesh Atid after several weeks during which the sides had not met, but no real progress was made that would enable Yesh Atid to join the coalition.
After the meeting, the Likud’s negotiator said that Yesh Atid had been adamant in its refusal to join a coalition with the hareidi-religious parties.
“As far as Yesh Atid is concerned, there is no room for hareidim in the government,” the negotiator, David Shimron, said, adding the Likud planned to meet on Friday with the Bayit Yehudi to determine their stance on the issue.
Yesh Atid and its head, Yair Lapid, are pushing for a radical program that will enlist all hareidi yeshiva students into the army. Lapid announced two weeks ago that when pictures of the new government are taken he does not plan to be photographed alongside Shas ministers, essentially rejecting joining a coalition with hareidi parties.
Bayit Yehudi and Yesh Atid have made a pact, agreeing to enter the coalition together or not at all, in an apparent attempt by both parties to guarantee a coalition ally with similar goals. Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett, while also wishing to enlist hareidim, has expressed a willingness to negotiate with them on the issue.
Meanwhile, according to Thursday’s Channel 10 report, U.S. officials have indicated that they would be very interested in seeing Lapid being appointed to the position of Foreign Minister in the new government.
The officials said that such a move will balance their concerns over a few other elements that are likely to be a part of the next government. While these elements were not named, this may have been a reference to Bennett, over whom the U.S. had expressed concern during the elections because of his stand against a Palestinian state.
However, all reports have indicated that Netanyahu is planning to save the position of Foreign Minister to his number two, Avigdor Lieberman, until the end of his trial.