Negotiators from Likud Beytenu and the Yesh Atid-Bayit Yehudi bloc have reached the first step of a new coalition pact, agreeing to drop eight ministers from the current panel of 28, not including the prime minister.
The party representatives met Monday afternoon to continue their efforts to hammer out a new agreement by March 16, the deadline by which time Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu must either submit a new coalition agreement for President Shimon Peres's approval, or tell the president he was unable to form a government. If the latter occurs, the president can either hand the task to someone else, or call new elections -- but either scenario is unlikely, analysts say.
Monday afternoon saw negotiators for all parties going back to the table after taking a short break to continue their marathon talks.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid joined negotiators for discussions on the size of the government and to discuss the disposition of the Education Ministry, according to a report broadcast on Voice of Israel radio.
Likud is firm on maintaining education in the hands of current Minister Gideon Sa’ar, and Yesh Atid is insisting the post go to MK Rabbi Shai Piron.
Complications have also arisen as a result of a promise made by Likud Beytenu to Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party, sealing a deal to appoint Livni as Justice Minister and chief negotiator for talks with the Palestinian Authority.
MK Uri Ariel also told Arutz Sheva earlier in the day that Bayit Yehudi is “waiting for clarification” from Likud Beytenu on the issue because it has a problem with Livni’s history under former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. It was rumored that Livni, who was foreign minister in the Olmert government, had agreed during talks with the PA to give up part of Jerusalem.
There is also a disagreement over whether there should be public transportation available on Saturdays – a point that has raised fire between the two members of the united Yesh Atid-Bayit Yehudi bloc.
The two parties also disagree on the wording of the bill that will deal with the issue of drafting hareidi-religious students into the army or forcing them into national service – referred to by them as “equal sharing of the burden.” The bill, to require some sort of national or military service by all citizens, is to be brought to a vote shortly after the government is formed.
It also is not yet clear who will take the Interior Ministry.
Yesh Atid’s Lapid will serve as Finance Minister, and Likud’s MK Moshe Ya’alon, a former IDF chief of staff, will most likely serve as Defense Minister.
So far it appears that Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) chairman Naftali Bennett will serve as Minister of Industry, Trade & Labor. MK Ariel may become Housing Minister, and Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan may be Minister of Religious Affairs.
It appears that the Social Services portfolio will be given to Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz, also a former IDF chief of staff.