Israeli coalition games in full flow

Fresh face in the Knesset: Labour’s Stav Shaffir, 27 (Photo: Flash 90)

Fresh face in the Knesset: Labour’s Stav Shaffir, 27 (Photo: Flash 90)

Although The most high-profile event this week was the swearing-in of the newly elected Knesset on Tuesday, with a record 48 new MKs, the real action was behind the scenes.

After President Shimon Peres had officially tasked Benjamin Netanyahu with forming a government, coalition talks began in earnest.

Since election day, Mr Netanyahu has tried to lay the foundations for a relationship with Yair Lapid and his party, Yesh Atid, now the second-largest in the Knesset. This week, however, saw a cooling-down between the two.

Whether it was the demands presented by the Yesh Atid negotiating team or a television interview in which Mr Lapid said that he planned to run for prime minister in the next elections, Likud leaders are now trying to broadcast the message that “we don’t necessarily need Yesh Atid in the coalition”.

Likud-Beiteinu’s number two, Avigdor Lieberman, said: “For the first time we are seeing people who, the day after the elections, do not talk about the good of the nation but of how they plan to be prime minister. I hope this is a temporary novelty and we will soon to start serious negotiations.”

In an attempt to minimise the conditions being set by Mr Lapid which would have to be met if he were to join a coalition government, Likud sources began briefing this week that the two small, centrist parties, Hatnuah and Kadima, would both be in the next coalition. The sources hinted that their leaders, Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz, would receive significant cabinet portfolios.

At the same time, Mr Lapid and the leader of Habayit Hayehudi, Naftali Bennett, continued to co-ordinate their approach to Mr Netanyahu, especially over the issue of national military service for yeshivah students.

The Charedi parties and rabbis who are trying to defuse the issue of a universal draft have lobbied the rabbis aligned with Habayit Hayehudi in an attempt to convince Mr Bennett not to insist on its implementation.

One senior rabbi, Tzephanya Drori of Kiryat Shmona, said that “if Naftali does not listen to the rabbis it will be the end of his political career”. However, the new party leader has made it clear that he is “committed to the hundreds of thousands who voted for us”, and not the rabbis.

Last updated: 10:37am, February 8 2013