Piece by piece. Netanyahu
Photo: Gil Yohanan
Netanyahu: Coalition talks far from over
Prime minister-designate briefs Likud members on efforts to form new government, warns public statements on negotiation's progress may weaken party's standing

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that the coalition negotiations were far from over. Speaking at a Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu said that "the negotiations are in their midst and we are focusing on substance as well as on the portfolios.


"You must remember that (Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor) Lieberman won 15 mandates. Kadima doesn’t want a unity government and (Labor Chairman Ehud) Barak made stipulations that would have required us to break from our natural partners."


The realities of the negotiations are very complex, he added, and "discussing them in public only weakens our standing. If we stand together, united, we can achieve more. If anyone can think of a better way, I am open to suggestions."


Netanyahu also reiterated his intent to finalize the government's make up as soon as possible, before telling his faction that the reform the Likud intends to lead in Israel's system of government is quickly taking shape.


Knesset Member Gideon Sa'ar, head of the party's coalition negotiation team, told his colleagues that the party decided to yield to the United Torah Judaism and Habayit Hayehudi's demands and refrain from anchoring any changes in the election threshold within the coalition agreement.


The election threshold is the minimum percentage of votes a party must get in order to have two seats in the Knesset. It currently stands at 2%.


Questionable tactics?

The meeting also saw the Likud faction unanimously approve the candidacy of Knesset Member Reuven Rivlin as Knesset speaker. It is to be his second term in office.


"I'm very excited," he told Ynet. "I hope the Knesset will confirm my nomination. My first mission will be to restore the Knesset's standing in the public eye. We must also introduce a strict code of ethics and conduct, so that the events we've witnessed over the past few years won't happen again."


Another scheduled vote, for faction chairman, was postponed after party members complained that Netanyahu did not prepare the candidates – MKs Zeev Elkin, Ofir Akunis, Gila Gamliel and Danny Danon – for the vote. Out of the four, Elkin is believed to be the favorite.


Meanwhile, many in the Likud expressed their disapproval of Netanyahu's negotiation tactics, which they say left the party devoid of some of the more prestigious portfolios, seemingly promised to Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas.


Knesset Member Silvan Shalom, who was clamoring to be made foreign minister, grouped together some 300 party members, as if to signal Netanyahu of his – and their – disapproval that he was apparently passed over for the position.


Other Likud members, however, sided with the party chairman, saying that the political realities formed after the general elections left Netanyahu little choice and that he "had to play the political game" in order to ensure the two parties would indeed recommend him to form the new government.


The Likud, they added, still holds the Treasury, Defense and Education portfolios, as well as many others, and "we have to keep things in proportion." The uproar within the party, they concluded, will soon die down.


Amnon Meranda contributed to this report 


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