Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has received a two-week extension from President Reuven Rivlin to finalize negotiations over forming Israel’s next governing coalition.
“We have made considerable progress in the negotiations, but more time is necessary for us to form a stable government that would meet the challenges Israel faces,” Netanyahu said in a statement following a meeting with Rivlin on Monday.
Earlier, on Friday, Netanyahu met with the chairman of the Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party Naftali Bennett as part of the negotiations, weeks after the two politicians had cut off communications over disagreements. Netanyahu also met with Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman, who heads the Yisrael Beiteinu party.
After trailing in the polls leading up to the March 17 Israeli election, Netanyahu’s Likud party defied those projections with a sweeping victory of 30 Knesset seats over the Zionist Union party's 24 seats. Totals for the rest of Israel’s parties were as follows: 13 seats for the Joint Arab List, 11 for Yesh Atid, 10 for Kulanu, eight for Jewish Home, seven for Shas, six for United Torah Judaism, six for Yisrael Beiteinu, and four for Meretz.
Based on most the recent speculation, only the United Torah Judaism party is on the verge of signing a coalition agreement with Likud, due to Netanyahu's agreement to allow the religious party to take over the Health Ministry and the Knesset Finance Committee, according to reports. Gridlock in negotiations persists as demands by other party leaders—such as Kulanu's Moshe Kahlon, who is seeking sweeping banking and housing reforms—have so far not been agreed upon.
Netanyahu is also rumored to have refused to grant Bennett and Lieberman their desired ministerial positions, which has led to some speculation that the prime minister might ultimately form a unity government with Isaac Herzog's Zionist Union.
Last Wednesday, prior to Lieberman's Friday meeting with Netanyahu, the foreign minister told Israel Radio that a unity pact with the Zionist Union would "paralyze" the Israeli government because "there is no ideological common ground with them."
Meanwhile, the "first task" of Israel's Foreign Ministry after a coalition is established "will be to rehabilitate ties with the United States," said Lieberman. He added that Israel would "pay a very high price" without "the cooperation of the U.S." on matters such as relations with Europe, dealings in the U.N. Security Council, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's legal push against Israel in the International Criminal Court.
Netanyahu's meeting with Bennett lasted an hour and a half, and the two politicians reportedly agreed to meet again to continue negotiations.