Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud allies are threatening to abandon coalition talks, and instead to move for new elections.
Negotiations between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Yesh Atid have stalled over the issue of who will get the Education portfolio.
Despite numerous concessions by the prime minister to political newcomer Yair Lapid, the Yesh Atid chairman has refused to budge on his demand for the ministry. And Netanyahu is insisting on keeping current Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who has done a good job, in the position.
"Yair Lapid does not understand that that he is entering as a partner in the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. This is not new politics, it's old extortion. Likud MK Danny Danon, a senior party member said bluntly in an interview Wednesday on Army Radio.
"The number of mandates for Shas and United Torah Judaism together is similar to that of Yesh Atid. If he doesn't understand this he will find himself outside of the government," Danon pointed out. "If we are extorted today on the small things we will find ourselves facing much bigger extortion in the future," he added, warning, "Lapid cannot dictate all of the developments that he desires."
Danon went on to explain, “There are other alternatives, such as forming a government with hareidi-religious parties – or calling new elections.”
A third option, unpleasant though it may be for Likud to contemplate, is that of failure: should Netanyahu miss the March 16 deadline and be unable to form a coalition, it is President Shimon Peres’s decision whether to hand the task to someone else for another try, or to call new elections.
Lapid already has been given the Finance Ministry, and deep concessions were made on a host of other issues as well during the past five weeks of talks. But Netanyahu is clearly reaching the end of his patience and his begun to review other options.
In the past 24 hours he has met with current Interior Minister Eli Yishai, one of the three co-chairmen of the hareidi-religious Sephardic Shas party that is presently slated to head to the Opposition with United Torah Judaism and Labor.
Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) chairman Naftali Bennett, who formerly was at odds with the prime minister, has since become the middleman in trying to smooth out the relationship between Netanyahu and Lapid, his own partner in a bloc they formed heading into coalition negotiations. But Bennett has also found himself beginning to have doubts about the alliance with Lapid, with the differences between the two becoming highlighted as the talks continue.
With U.S. President Barack Obama set to arrive in Jerusalem on March 20 and the deadline for formation of the coalition just three days away, time is running out.