With less than four hours left until the midnight deadline to form a new government, negotiating teams for Likud and Bayit Yehudi were holding marathon meetings on Wednesday evening in an attempt to iron out the final details of the coalition agreement between the two parties.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to Bayit Yehudi's demand to appoint MK Ayelet Shaked as justice minister, but insisted that her powers be curtailed.
The prime minister is willing to agree to the appointment of Shaked, a former high-tech engineer, on condition that she does not head the committee overseeing the nomination of new judges, and does not have the authority to appoint rabbinical judges - two roles traditionally tasked to the justice minister.
Bayit Yehudi officials told Ynet, however, that there will be no agreement without authority over the Judicial Selection Committee.
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The decision came after hours of negotiations that lasted into the night.
Once Bayit Yehudi demanded the ministry for Shaked, Likud officials began calculating which powers she would have. One the central disputes was her membership of the security cabinet, which comes with the post. Netanhyau is reluctant to grant Bayit Yehudi two places in the sensitive cabinet, as party leader Naftali Bennett is also a member, but is contemplating an expansion of the cabinet to reduce the Bayit Yehudi influence.
Likud officials had proposed that the Justice Ministry be given to Bennett, but his party made clear that the post was intended for Shaked alone.
Other options to dilute Shaked's authority include removing the justice minister as head of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, one of the biggest power bases for directing government policy, where bills are accepted or denied. The Likud officials clearly remember the headaches they faced in the last Knesset, when then-justice minister Tzipi Livni headed the committee, and are anxious to ensure that Bayit Yehudi is not awarded such power.
Bayit Yehudi is the last remaining key to the formation of the fourth Netanyahu government. The coalition will apparently comprise just 61 MKs – the 53 Netanyahu already has in the bag, and Bennett's eight.
From the start of negotiations, Bennett has had his eye on either the Defense or Foreign Ministry, but changed his demand to the education portfolio when he realized that he would not receive either of the two senior posts. The Finance Ministry was promised long ago to Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, a former Likud minister who left under a cloud to form his own party.
But Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman's decision not to join the next government and to resign his post at the Foreign Ministry, has left the job open and Netanyahu desperate to muster the number of MKs needed to form a government. Bennett then toughened his demands, requesting the Justice Ministry for Shaked and a guarantee that Zionist Union would not be brought in. Only one of his demands - Shaked's position - was met.
Netanyahu has until 11:59 pm Wednesday to present his government to President Reuven Rivlin. As it stands, the government will include his own Likud party with 30 seats, Kulanu with 10 seats, Shas with seven seats, United Torah Judaism with six seats, and Bayit Yehudi with eight.