President Shimon Peres
met with representatives of the Labor, Habayit Hayehudi, Shas and United Torah Judaism parties on Thursday morning as he prepared to officially task Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
with putting together the next government.
Peres is expected to summon Netanyahu on Saturday evening and authorize him to begin coalition talks, but before doing so the president is meeting with members of each Knesset faction and hearing their recommendations on the matter.
Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich
said after her own meeting that her party will not endorse any candidate.
"In the absence of any true leadership candidate, the Labor party didn't recommend anyone (to head the government)," she said. "We leave it up to the president. The commitment to the State's security and to starting a peace process isn't dependent on the coalition members."
Yachimovich with Stav Shaffir at President's Residence (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Yachimovich said she has notified Peres her party will not join Netanyahu's governing coalition.
"This isn't a personal rejection, but an ideological one," she said, pledging to support any measure that moves the peace process forward.
Bennett, in turn, said his party has informed the president it is backing Netanyahu.
"A new generation has emerged in Israel, one that doesn't stand for hate speech, not against the religious sector, not against the seculars, the Arabs or any other group," he said. "Let's do this together instead of focusing on the discord. We endorse Netanyahu. We said so during the elections and we stand by our word."
Bennet meets with president (Photo: Mark Neiman, GPO)
Shas and United Torah Judaism joined Habayit Hayehudi in putting their support behind Netanyahu.
Peres began the series of consultations
on Wednesday, meeting first with representatives of the Likud-Beiteinu and Yesh Atid, the two largest factions.
Chairman of Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid,
told reporters after his meeting that he is recommending Netanyahu as well.
While coalition talks were not set to officially begin until after Peres' announcement, sources within the Likud-Beiteinu and Yesh Atid signaled that the two largest Knesset factions are expected to reach a compromise that would gradually reduce the size of the Cabinet.
Shas representatives with Peres (Photo: Mark Neiman, GPO)
The two are also soon to move forward with legislation that would permanently reduce the number of ministers in the government after the next elections.
The outgoing administration contained at one point as many as 29 ministers. In his campaign, Lapid vowed to lobby for a much smaller cabinet, setting the ideal number of ministers at 18.
Nevertheless, Lapid's associates say that he realizes that the reduction will have to be gradual, noting that Netanyahu, for his part, is aware he must trim down the government.
Sources within both Lapid and Netanyahu's parties said the compromise will stipulate that the new cabinet will contain up to 24 ministers. Moreover, the prime minister is expected not to appoint ministers without portfolio.
Such a deal would help Netanyahu appease senior members of his party, while allowing Lapid to claim the cabinet reduction as his own achievement.