Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu met with Religious Zionist Party chief Bezalel Smotrich late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, as the two leaders sought to hammer out the basis for a coalition agreement.
Netanyahu met with Smotrich for over six hours, with both sides reporting significant progress was made in the latest round of direct talks.
Officials from the Religious Zionist Party say that most of the outstanding issues were resolved during the meeting, with only minor details left to be resolved before the signing of a coalition agreement.
The Likud and Religious Zionist Party are now expected to ink a coalition deal Wednesday afternoon.
The breakthrough was achieved after the two sides reached an agreement over Smotrich’s primary demand – that he be appointed either Defense Minister or Finance Minister.
This condition for the Religious Zionist Party supporting the new government stymied negotiations for over week, with the Likud intent on retaining the Defense Ministry portfolio, and Shas chairman Aryeh Deri demanding the Finance Ministry portfolio.
Under the arrangement agreed upon by Netanyahu and Smotrich during the most recent meeting, Smotrich and Deri will split the Finance Ministry and Interior Ministry portfolios between them during the course of the new government’s term.
According to a report by Channel 12 Wednesday morning, Smotrich will serve as Finance Minister until 2025, with Deri serving as Interior Minister. At that point, the two will switch positions.
In addition, another Religious Zionist Party MK - most likely Ofir Sofer, will receive the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, until 2025, at which point the ministry will be transferred to fellow RZP MK Orit Strock, with Sofer then being appointed either Education or Transportation Minister.
Strock (RZP) will first be appointed Settlement Affairs Minister, before switching to Immigration Minister in 2025.
Religious Zionist Party MK Simcha Rothman will serve as chairman of the Knesset's powerful Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.
Once the Likud secures the support of the Religious Zionist Party, it will need to conclude talks with Shas and United Torah Judaism before it can present a new government to President Isaac Herzog.
On Tuesday, it was reported that Netanyahu intends to ask President Isaac Herzog for an extension of 14 days to form a governing coalition, amid concerns the Likud may not be able to reach deals with Shas and UTJ before the deadline.
Netanyahu has 11 days remaining to form a government.