Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received more time to form a new government, as he shifts his focus to bringing two nationalist parties into his coalition.
President Reuven Rivlin on Monday gave Netanyahu until May 6 to gain the parliamentary majority he’d need to govern, a two-week extension of the four weeks he originally received. While Israeli coalition-building typically requires that added time, Netanyahu is facing demands from potential partners seeking to control powerful ministries and agencies. Looming in the background is talk of a possible hookup with the centrist rival he defeated, the Labor-dominated Zionist Union bloc.
“We have made progress and will certainly form the government, but are asking for additional time so that it will be a stable one and we can reach agreement on several important issues,” Netanyahu said in comments broadcast on Israel Radio.
Netanyahu’s Likud party emerged from March 17 elections as the largest parliamentary faction with an unexpectedly strong showing of 30 seats, but still well short of a majority in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset. Likud has been courting parties similarly wary of peacemaking with the Palestinians, an alliance that would dim prospects of ending a yearlong negotiations stalemate.
The prime minister has reached agreements in principle with Kulanu, a new faction founded by former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon that focuses on economic and social issues, and with two ultra-Orthodox factions that were left out of his previous government, Shas and United Torah Judaism. Netanyahu has asked Kahlon to be his next finance minister.
Still holding out are Jewish Home, which supports Jewish settlement of the West Bank and opposes a Palestinian state; and Yisrael Beytenu, a party headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman that draws electoral support from Russian-immigrant Israelis and doesn’t see a peace deal with the Palestinians in the near future.
If Jewish Home agrees to enter the coalition, its eight parliamentary seats would give Netanyahu a majority in Knesset. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads Jewish Home, met with Netanyahu on Friday for the first time since the election. Bennett threatened via Twitter on Monday to break off coalition talks if Shas is given control of the religious affairs ministry. Liberman seeks to retain a top cabinet post, even though his party lost half of his parliamentary strength in the balloting.
If Netanyahu can’t form a new government by early May, Rivlin has the option of giving other party leaders the opportunity to put together a coalition.
While Israeli media have reported Likud overtures toward Zionist Union, parliament’s second-biggest faction, commentators have observed that this may be an incentive to the holdouts to reach a deal with Netanyahu. Both Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog and Netanyahu have denied the reports, which included specifics of inducements offered and spurned. Herzog has said he wouldn’t join a Netanyahu-led government, seeing it unable to negotiate a peace deal that would create a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The prime minister has said a peace accord is unlikely under present circumstances.
“Netanyahu wants a narrow right-wing government that will lead us to dangerous places,” Herzog said at a public appearance on Saturday. “From the opposition we will eventually replace Likud, because Netanyahu will finally lead the government to a dead end.”