"We are only beginning the talks today, and we hope Netanyahu's conversations with (Labor Chairman) Ehud Barak and (Kadima Chairwoman) Tzipi Livni will create fellowship," said Knesset Member Gideon Sa'ar, who has not given up on the idea of a national unity government.
First to arrive at the Kfar Maccabiah Hotel in Ramat Gan were representatives of Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party.
According to Sa'ar, who is a member of the Likud's negotiating team, "In the vast majority of matters we see eye-to-eye with Yisrael Beiteinu."
He added that "the State needs a government to be established as soon as possible."
MK Stas Misezhnikov (Yisrael Beiteinu) said at the start of the meeting, "We are happy to sit with our natural partners. We said we wanted unity. These are difficult times for Israel and a stable government is needed. A partnership between the Likud, Kadima and Yisrael Beiteinu could be the best thing for the State."
Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu negotiating teams (Photo: Yaron Brener)
In the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, the sides did not reach any far-reaching agreements and did not discuss the division of portfolios. Miseznikov said that the meeting was "pleasant" and that the parties did not reach any agreements on the civil marriage and government system issues.
"Progress was made on the Loyalty Law issue," he said, "and we'll continue discussing the matter." He added that the Likud representatives told him they had not signed any agreements with Shas.
'Like meeting with friends'
The haredi party's representatives were next to enter the negotiating room. Shas Chairman Eli Yishai said at the start of the meeting that he felt like he was "meeting with friends".
"We want to build a real partnership, which will deal with the problems on the agenda in different matters. The deep recession is a primary issue which has to be dealt with."
According to Yishai, "We’ll negotiate out of a real desire to form a government. There are halachic ways to deal with the disputed issues." He expressed his hopes that the negotiations would be completed as soon as possible because "every day is a waste".
However, Yishai was sounding less optimistic following the meeting.
"We are dealing with complex issues. The first issue is the economy and the recession. We also need to deal with social problems. They (Likud) were surprised this was the main issue we discussed," he said. "I won't hide the fact that there are rather large gaps. I hope the negotiations will be completed quickly."
Yishai added that no government portfolios were discussed in the meeting, and that the issue will not be discussed before "important subjects such as the economy and civil marriages are discussed."
Meanwhile, Shas' Ariel Atias said that unemployment was the most important issue on he agenda, adding that "we want a plan that addresses the issue of unemployment before anything else."
Following the meeting, the Likud's Sa'ar said: "I hope we can cooperate in friendship and mutual respect as we view many issues similarly. We feel like we have met with friends."
United Torah Judaism Chairman Yakov Litzman said upon his arrival to the meeting that "every change in state and religion affairs must be made in agreement." He noted that "we were satisfied with what the Likud wrote in its letter to Yisrael Beiteinu."
Litzman added, "I told Benjamin Netanyahu that if they give us they'll receive. Negotiations are not completed in one day. We'll demand education, allowances, housing and a status-quo… We are also concerned by the issue of civil marriage."
On Tuesday evening, Netanyahu announced the appointment of a team of negotiators for the coalition talks as he attempts to form a new government. The team includes MK Ze'ev Elkin, Professor Ya'akov Ne'eman, former MK Eliezer (Modi) Zandberg and political consultant Nathan Eshel.
In addition, Netanyahu has also appointed a '100 days' team, headed by MK Yuval Steinitz, whose job is to prepare the government's plan of action for its first days.
One of the main problems facing the prime minister-designate is the clash between Yisrael Beiteinu and the haredi factions on matters of state and religion. Ynet has learned that Lieberman told his associates that the civil marriage issue –the main bone of contention with the Shas party – was only his third top priority and that he would agree to a solution.