Likud and Shas make significant government headway as Smotrich balks

Deri offered interior and health portfolios, as well as Finance Ministry rotation deal, but Religious Zionist party continues throwing up roadblocks

Moran Azulay|
Likud and Shas reached understandings in talks toward a new government Wednesday as coalition negotiations with Bezalel Smotrich and his Religious Zionist party have hit a snag.
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  • Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu met with Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri and the two agreed that Deri would take the interior and health portfolios and go first in a rotation deal in the Finance Ministry. Shas is also poised to take control of the Religious Services Ministry.
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    Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Construction and Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman
    Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Construction and Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman
    Aryeh Deri
    (Photo: Shaul Golan)
    In addition, Deri is also likely to be named deputy prime minister, but will not assume the premiership in case Netanyahu steps down or is incapacitated.
    Potential issues could arise with the far-right Otzma Yehudit party as it locks horns with Shas over the Negev and Galilee Ministry.
    United Torah Judaism is primed to take the Jerusalem, social equality, and construction and housing portfolios.
    Smotrich's party is still eyeing the finance, settlement, and Aliyah portfolios.
    After the conclusion of talks with other parties, Netanyahu will then have to face inwards to solve power struggles within his own Likud party and the discontent of fellow party members about relinquishing senior portfolios to their right-wing bloc allies.
    As things stand, Likud's MKs Eli Cohen and Miri Regev are poised to become education and transportation ministers, respectively.
    Meanwhile, both Likud and the Religious Zionist party evoked Wednesday morning's deadly terror bombings in Jerusalem in order to inject a sense of urgency into coalition talks, but the ultranationalist party is signaling it is growing tired of Likud's horse-trading.
    "We're compromising and giving up a lot. But there are red lines we're not willing to cross, nor would the public want us to," Smotrich's party said in a statement.
    "Please have some faith and we will get through these negotiations. We will not be talked down to and we won't be maligned. We will stand up for what's important.
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    בצלאל סמוטריץ'
    בצלאל סמוטריץ'
    Bezalel Smotrich
    (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
    It's hard to keep up with Likud's spins and lies. They schedule meetings once every three days and spread misinformation in between. There's no escape from responding to it. This is just an attempt to belittle the values we care about and on which we were elected."
    The statement then detailed the party's requirements from Netanyahu and signed off with: "It's time to form a right-wing government to secure the State of Israel."
    Likud replied by saying: "Smotrich, forget talking about jobs and appointments and let's sign off on a right-wing government tonight."
    Sources involved with the negotiations said that even some within Smotrich's own party think he is overplaying his hand and stalling negotiations too long.
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