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Netanyahu, Lapid begin effort to form new coalition

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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu began the process of building a new governing coalition Wednesday with his Likud Beytenu ally Avigdor Liberman and the big winner in Tuesday\’s election, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.
Netanyahu agreed with Lapid and Liberman that the next government would focus primarily on lowering housing costs, reforming the electoral system, and equalizing the burden of service. But they did not agree on which parties should be in the coalition and who should receive the top portfolios.
The prime minister would prefer to give the Foreign Affairs portfolio to Lapid, who speaks perfect British-accented English and whose moderate image could improve Israel\’s ties with the United States and Europe. But Liberman said he wants to return to his former job once he is clear of his legal troubles and suggested that Lapid be finance minister.
"I think that Lapid who speaks about the middle class and the socioeconomic protests should naturally focus on internal issues and take the Finance portfolio,” Liberman said in a press conference at Yisrael Beytenu\’s Jerusalem headquarters.
Vice premier Moshe Ya\’alon, who is a former IDF chief of General Staff, is expected to be given the Defense portfolio. Any hope Netanyahu might have had of appointing Defense Minister Ehud Barak as a professional appointment ended when the Likud fared poorly in the election and decreased the number of portfolios that will be available to the party.
At a press briefing outside his Tel Aviv home, Lapid ended speculation that he might join efforts to block Netanyahu from forming a government. Yesh Atid is expected to recommend to President Shimon Peres that he entrust Netanyahu with forming the next coalition.
“We won\’t build a obstructionist bloc with [Balad MK] Haneen Zoabi,” Lapid said. “The results of the elections are clear. We have to work with those results.”
The final results of the race are expected to be known Thursday following the counting of the votes of IDF soldiers, diplomats, prisoners, and polling station officials.
With more than 99 percent of the votes counted, it appeared that Likud won 31 seats, Yesh Atid 19, Labor 15, Bayit Yehudi and Shas 11, United Torah Judaism seven, Meretz and the Tzipi Livni Party six, Arab parties 12, and Kadima two. That would give the Right and Left blocs an equal 60 seats in the next Knesset.
But a source in the central elections committee said Kadima might still not pass the two percent electoral threshold and that at least one seat would end up shifting from Arab parties to Bayit Yehudi, which will rise to 12 mandates.
The least likely coalition to be formed is a bloc of only the 61 MKs from right-wing parties. A national-unity government with Labor is also seen as extremely unlikely, even though multiple Labor MKs expressed interest in joining the coalition.
The only parties guaranteed to be part of the coalition are Likud Beytenu, Yesh Atid, and Bayit Yehudi, which will have a combined total of 62 seats once the additional MK is given to Bayit Yehudi. If Kadima passes the threshold, its two seats would also be included.
Lapid wants the Tzipi Livni Party to be added to the coalition, for a total of 70 MKs, but Netanyahu prefers that Shas and United Torah Judaism be added instead. He tried to persuade Lapid that both Yesh Atid and Shas needed to be in the government to work out compromises on IDF conscription.
While since the election Netanyahu has spoken to Lapid and the leaders of Shas and UTJ, he appeared to make a point of not calling Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett.
The Jerusalem Post reported last Wednesday that Netanyahu would only invite Bayit Yehudi to join the coalition once a majority of 61 MKs were in place so he would not have to worry about the party remaining in the coalition following diplomatic concessions, such as the removal of unauthorized West Bank outposts.
In an effort to reach out to Lapid, who is the kingmaker of the coalition, Bayit Yehudi MK Uri Ariel said he had no problem joining a government in which Livni negotiates with the Palestinians, and Bennett told his faction that he is in favor of reconsidering the status quo on religion and state. Such a move would prevent haredi parties from joining the coalition. Yesh Atid’s second placed candidate Rabbi Shai Piron had tough words for Shas, and promised that his party would not agree to sit in government with the haredi faction if it meant compromising on their core principles.
“We won’t be part of a government of which Shas is the defining identity, in which Shas has a large influence on its character, on its tone, on the discourse, and on its priorities,” Piron said on Army Radio.
“If Shas repents for its former behavior and understands that the manner of extortion it has employed in the past is over, and that equality in the burden of national service will be a fact of life then we can sit with them,” he continued “But Yesh Atid will categorically not be part of a government in which Shas behaves as it has in the past. The Israeli public has said no to its campaign of hatred and racism, is fed up with sectoral politics and doesn’t want this kind of discourse. It wants to talk about Israeli society as a whole.”
Shas triumvirate leader Eli Yishai expressed optimism however that his party would help form the new government. He pointed to the thin majority a Likud-Betenu-Yesh Atid-Bayit Yehudi coalition would command without Shas, saying that such a government would not last long.
“Let’s be done with the campaigning and spin, and form a stable government,” Yishai said. “For sure it will be complicated but we need to all sit down together, without exception, and discuss what’s good for the Jewish people and for the State of Israel.”
On Tuesday night, Yishai said that if Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid “wants to be realistic, he needs to work together with us otherwise they\’ll be no stability.”
One of the major stumbling blocks to including both Yesh Atid and Shas in the new government will be the demands of Lapid’s party to implement its proposal for drafting haredi men into national service.
Yesh Atid’s plan calls for all 18 year old men to enlist in some form of national service, after a five-year interim period which will be used to prepare the army for an influx of ultra-Orthodox recruits. Shas is unlikely to agree to such a proposal, although the party leadership did exhibit greater than expected flexibility for increasing the haredi draft during negotiations on the issue during the Knesset’s summer session.
Arye Deri, another member of the Shas leadership troika, said on Kol Yisrael Radio however that he believed a compromise could be reached on this issue.
“I spoke with the Prime Minister last night and I’m we’ll be meeting in the coming days. Regarding haredi enlistment, nothing can be done through coercion. With good will a compromise, can be reached and the burden [national service] can be more evenly spread, and I’m even favor of this”.

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