Amid trouble in coalition talks, Netanyahu seeks deadline extension

Click photo to download. Caption: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

( Amid growing difficulty to form a new government by the March 2 deadline, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has scheduled a meeting with President Shimon Peres on Saturday, most likely to discuss a 14-day extension, which would give him until March 16 to form a government.

Netanyahu has been attempting to form a government composed of the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox religious parties. But the leaders of the centrist Yesh Atid party and far-right Habayit Hayehudi party, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, have formed a pact not to enter the government without the other.

Despite widely differing political platforms, both Lapid and Bennett campaigned on reforming Israel’s military draft law to include ultra-Orthodox conscription, which the ultra-Orthodox community strongly opposes. Netanyahu, however, has been reluctant to alienate the ultra-Orthodox community, which has strongly supported him in his past two terms..

But in meetings with Likud officials, Yesh Atid has explicitly stated that it will not enter the government if the ultra-Orthodox parties are included.

"The answer we got on this matter was that, essentially, to Yesh Atid there is no place for haredim [ultra-orthodox] in the next government,” Netanyahu’s chief negotiator David Shimron said, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Meanwhile, a report on Israel’s Channel 10 News cited by the Times of Israel said that U.S. President Barack Obama would cancel his trip to Israel if a government is not formed by March 16. Obama’s highly anticipated trip to Israel, his first as president, is scheduled to begin on March 20.

Netanyahu, whose Likud-Beytenu party alliance won 31 Knesset seats, needs at least 60 seats to form a governing coalition. Netanyahu has only signed Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party, which won six seats. If Netanyahu does not form a government by March 16, Peres may ask another party leader to form one or call new elections. 

Posted on February 28, 2013 .