Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party is accusing Yesh Atid, the second- biggest faction, of holding up talks to form a new government.
Netanyahu has until March 16 to form a coalition, ahead of a planned visit by U.S. President Barack Obama later in the month.
Likud parliament member and party Chairman Zeev Elkin said today the key sticking point is Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid’s insistence that he be given the post of foreign minister. “If Yair Lapid gave up his call to become foreign minister and would agree to be finance minister, we could sign a coalition agreement today,” Elkin said in an interview with Army Radio.
Netanyahu has said he wants to hold the foreign minister slot for Avigdor Liberman, who resigned from the Cabinet in December after being indicted on fraud and breach of trust charges, and would return to the post if acquitted. Likud and Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu faction ran jointly in Jan. 22 elections and emerged with a leading 31 parliament seats, trailed by Yesh Atid with 19.
Netanyahu needs to form a majority coalition in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, the Knesset. Likud has already signed a coalition deal with Hatenuah, a six-seat faction headed by former former foreign minister Tzipi Livni.
Lapid denied Likud accusations that his personal demands are primarily responsible for holding up the effort to form a new government. “For two days the Likud’s negotiators have charged that coalition talks are about Cabinet posts,” the Yesh Atid leader wrote on his Facebook page. “This is a transparent attempt to distract attention from the real issues,” Lapid wrote, saying disagreements still existed over government reforms, education and housing.
Obama is scheduled to visit Israel in the latter half of March for the first time while in office. The focus of talks will be on containing Iran’s nuclear program, advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and dealing with the deteriorating Syrian situation, Netanyahu said this week.
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