JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday met potential coalition partners after being given a two-week extension to form a new government after failing to do so for a month.
Late on Saturday Netanyahu received another fortnight to put together a coalition, four weeks after being initially tasked to do so by President Shimon Peres. If he fails to meet the deadline, another member of parliament will be given the mission.
Netanyahu, whose Likud-Beitenu list emerged as the largest party in a January 22 general election with 31 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, had hoped to include the two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ), in his government.
But Yesh Atid, which came second with 19 seats, and far-right Jewish Home which came fourth with 12, both opposed concessions Netanyahu was willing to offer the ultra-Orthodox parties on the draft, and agreed that neither would enter a coalition without the other.
Yesterday, Netanyahu met leaders of Shas, which won 11 seats, and according to media reports told them that he would probably be unable to have ultra-Orthodox parties in his coalition, despite wanting to do so.
Shas and UTJ are relatively convenient coalition partners, which would neither oppose potential peace initiatives nor pose a threat to Netanyahu as premier.
After his Shas meeting, Netanyahu held extended talks with Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, a meeting that was reportedly “good and practical.”
Relations between the two men have been tense since Bennett resigned as Netanyahu’s chief of staff in 2008.
Netanyahu implicitly blamed both Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid of “boycotting” the ultra-Orthodox parties in a Saturday night statement. The two rejected the claim.
Speaking at the start of the Sunday cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said Iran’s controversial nuclear drive and the deadly conflict in Syria highlighted the need for a broad-based government in Israel.
“Our enemies are uniting in order to bring about not only atomic weapons that could be used against us, but other deadly weapons that are piling up around us,” he said in remarks relayed by his office. “We must come together and unite our forces in order to face up to these dangers,” he said.
“I regret that this is not happening.”
Netanyahu had so far managed to strike a deal only with the centrist HaTnuah, which won six seats, to join his nascent coalition.