Netanyahu fights to make coalition stick


A month after winning the election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still does not have a coalition to form a new government.

On Tuesday he received a two-week extension from President Reuven Rivlin in which to complete his administration.

He now has to form either a right-wing, religious coalition, or turn to Labour leader Isaac Herzog and try to build a national-unity government.

"Netanyahu wants a government with Herzog," said one Likud insider this week. "But for now he will probably have to make do with a right-wing government, though it could well be temporary."

Mr Herzog has repeatedly said that his party will serve in the opposition, though he has not expressly ruled out linking up with Mr Netanyahu at a later stage.

Following March's election, Likud and five other parties with a combined total of 67 Knesset members recommended Mr Netanyahu continue as prime minister. Likud has to sign coalition agreements with the others to pave the way for a confidence vote which would allow the swearing-in of a new government.

"So far there are coalition deals ready with the two Charedi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism," a member of one of the negotiation teams said this week.

These agreements will be signed once it is clear which demands of the other coalition partners have been met. Talks with the three other parties remain stuck.

Kulanu, Likud's largest potential partner, with 10 seats, has been promised three ministries, including the finance ministry for party leader Moshe Kahlon.

But it is still refusing to close the deal due to Likud's demand that it vote in favour of new legislation limiting the powers of the Supreme Court.

There is deep disagreement over ministerial positions with two other parties, Jewish Home and Yisrael Beiteinu.

Despite being the smallest partner, with only six seats, Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman is demanding that he remain foreign minister.

Jewish Home wants three ministers, including the religious affairs position, also coveted by Shas. Likud has so far refused these demands.

The growing consensus in the political establishment is that Mr Netanyahu will find a way to meet Jewish Home's demands and if Mr Lieberman refuses to budge, form a coalition with the minimum of 61 Knesset members.

In such a case, the coalition is unlikely to last more than a few months - and before long, feelers will be put out to Mr Herzog.

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