As soon as Yamina leader Naftali Bennett announced that he would be joining centrist Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid in his effort to form a government, the so-called 'coalition for change' rushed to finalize the agreement that could see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ousted from the premiership after 12 years.
"I announce that I intend to do my utmost to establish a national unity government with my friend Yair Lapid, so that together, God willing, we will save the country from its turmoil and get Israel back on track,” said Bennett in his official announcement on Sunday evening.
And while Lapid hopes to finalize all the details of the coalition agreement by the time his mandate ends on June 2, it is likely the Yesh Atid chair would tell President Reuven Rivlin that he managed to form a government even before the deadline ends.
Because everybody in the coalition for change knows that any delay could threaten to topple the already shaky foundations of this political partnership.
The negotiation teams of Lapid’s Yesh Atid, Bennett’s Yamina, Gideon Saar’s New Hope and Benny Gantz’s Blue & White apparently were hashing out the terms of the agreement until 3am on Monday. And the talks are set to resume later in the day in order to table the agreement before the Knesset at the earliest possible date.
In addition, a team headed by Oded Forer from Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, met with professionals from the Finance Ministry to discuss budget issues. This only adds to the rumors that Liberman will most likely become the next finance minister.
All in all, negotiations are at an advanced stage and are proceeding as planned according to those familiar with the details. But, there are still some gaps left to bridge.
The first of which is New Hope’s demand to give MK Yoaz Hendel the tourism or communications portfolios - which are both supposed to remain in the hands of Yesh Atid.
As per the current agreement, four of the six New Hope MKs are supposed to serve as ministers: Gideon Saar as justice minister, Yifat Shasha-Bitton as education minister, Zeev Elkin as housing minister, and Hendel, who currently remains without a portfolio.
Another hurdle is the agriculture portfolio, which Blue & White are demanding be handed over to them even though it was promised to Yisrael Beiteinu.
In addition, the right-wing parties are demanding a majority representation in the Judicial Selection Committee.
The issue appears to be another friction point since one chair in the committee was already promised to Labor leader Merav Michaeli, while another two representatives are set to be elected via a secret process. The right-wing bloc wants to ensure that if another left-wing representative is elected, Michaeli would forgo her spot on the committee.
Another issue lies in the question of who will receive the diaspora and the Negev and the Galilee portfolios. The latter was promised to Yisrael Beiteinu but Yamina's deputy leader Ayelet Shaked wants the portfolio to be integrated into the Interior Ministry, which she is supposed to head under the emerging agreement.
In the meantime, Bennett - who is supposed to serve as prime minister for the first two years under the rotation agreement with Lapid - continues to claim that members of his party are united in the move despite Netanyahu’s enormous efforts to divide them.
Most members of Bennett's faction expressed support for his decision. The exceptions are MK Amichai Chikli, who has vocalized his opposition to joining the coalition for change, and MK Nir Orbach, who still appears to be on the fence.
Meanwhile, the Arab Balad party which makes up the Joint List alliance, announced their opposition to joining the Lapid-Bennett government.
"The 'coalition for change' does not herald any real change, and it will be headed by a man, whose positions are more right-wing, radical and racist than Netanyahu's," Balad said in a statement.
"We strongly oppose Netanyahu and see him as a dangerous man for the entire region, but a fundamental change in policy is needed and not just a change in personnel," said Shahadeh.
"We heard Bennett, who is known for his far-right positions and his past statements about being proud to have murdered many Arabs. [Bennett] even made it clear that he is passionate about engaging in more military operations and wars."