Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on February 17, 2013
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on February 17, 2013. Netanyahu's right-wing alliance was to reopen talks on Thursday with a possible coalition partner, two days before an initial deadline to form a new government, officials said. © Ronen Zvulun - Pool/AFP/File
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on February 17, 2013
AFP
Last updated: February 28, 2013

Netanyahu aides to contact potential centrist partner

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing alliance was to reopen talks on Thursday with a possible coalition partner, two days before an initial deadline to form a new government, officials said.

Likud spokeswoman Noga Katz told AFP that alliance negotiators would meet representatives of the centrist Yesh Atid party for what media said would be their first talks in two weeks.

After the Likud-Beitenu alliance failed to win a majority in last month's election, President Shimon Peres on February 2 tasked Netanyahu with seeking to form a coalition, giving him the initial 28 days mandated by law for the task.

That period expires on Saturday.

But Netanyahu's partner Avigdor Lieberman, head of the hardline secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, said he would ask for the usual two-week extension.

"It's not yet clear what the composition of the next coalition will be but it's certain that there will be a government," Lieberman told public radio.

"I don't remember a government ever being formed in the first 28 days," he said. "I imagine that we shall this time too need another two weeks but in the end there will be a good and stable coalition."

Katz also said Netanyahu would likely ask for an extension.

The premier was reportedly leaning toward forging a coalition with Yesh Atid, which placed second in the January 22 vote, and the far-right Jewish Home, which came fourth, forsaking his traditional partners from ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties.

Third-placed Labour, which is headed by former journalist Shelly Yachimovich, says it will not serve under Netanyahu.

The Yediot Aharonot newspaper quoted MP Arye Deri, chief negotiator for the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, as saying he was preparing to lead his party from the outgoing government into opposition, possibly joining ranks with Labour.

"We need to prepare to be in the opposition and to serve the public as a fighting opposition. We can join forces with Shelly Yachimovich and serve as a fighting opposition on social and diplomatic issues," he told party colleagues.

"Netanyahu is working to reach a coalition agreement with Yesh Atid and the Jewish Home, that will leave the ultra-Orthodox out of the coalition," Haaretz wrote, citing senior Likud sources involved in the coalition talks.

But Lieberman refused to confirm the reports.

"I'm not sure that is the correct assessment," he told the radio. "We favour the broadest possible coalition."

Although the small, centrist HaTnuah party agreed last week to join, its six parliamentary seats added to Likud-Beitenu's 31 still leave Netanyahu a long way from a majority in the 120-seat Knesset but the Jewish Home has reportedly asked that Netanyahu renege on that deal as he price of its support.

The papers say that Yesh Atid, Jewish Home and the small centrist Kadima -- with a combined total of 33 seats -- are working together to exert the maximum political price for cooperating with Netanyahu.

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