Likud-Beiteinu negotiators achieved a breakthrough this week in discussions with the religious-right party Habayit Hayehudi — and were due to re-enter talks with the centre-right Yesh Atid on Thursday.
Despite this progress, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will need extra time to form a new government. Mr Netanyahu has used up the initial three weeks he received from President Shimon Peres to form a coalition following the elections and will have to go back to the president over the weekend to receive a two-week extension.
So far, Likud has signed an agreement only with Hatnuah. This deal gives the potential coalition only 37 MKs, far short of the required majority of 61.
The ruling party has been frustrated by the alliance between its two largest potential partners, Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi, whose leaders, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, have been co-ordinating their negotiations with an view to forcing Mr Netanyahu to agree to a new national service law. Mr Bennett has been under intense pressure from rabbis and settler leaders to reach an agreement which will allow the formation of a “national” government.
The pressure appeared to pay off this week when news emerged that headway had been made towards a Likud-Habayit Hayehudi deal, which would include a national service law that is less stringent than the one being demanded by Yesh Atid. But it emerged on Wednesday night that Mr Netanyahu was hopeful of also bringing Yesh Atid into the coalition with Habayit Hayehudi. This would effectively scupper the possibility of Shas joining the government.
Habayit Hayehudi members have said that the party is still waiting for clarifications on Mr Netanyahu’s deal last week with Hatnuah, especially over the responsibilities given to its leader, Tzipi Livni, who was made chief negotiator with the Palestinians.