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Netanyahu Closer to Forming New Government By Martin Gershowitz Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Neta

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the final stages of working with political allies to form a new government.

On Sunday night, Netanyahu met with prospective partners Yair Lapid from Yesh Atid Party and Naftali Bennett from the Jewish Home Party to resolve the remaining standing issues before reaching coalitional agreements.

Three issues still remain unresolved: the exact phrasing of a new conscription law to draft ultra-Orthodox into the army; the distribution of portfolios between Yesh Atid and the Likud parties, specifically over the education portfolio; and the number of ministers who should be in the next government.

The two-hour meeting was “encouraging,” according to the Ha’aretz daily newspaper, citing reliable sources at Yesh Atid and the Jewish Home parties.

Although agreements have not been reached, the talks did not reach a dead end but are moving slowly, the sources said.

“At the moment, it doesn’t seem as if we’re headed for crisis,” a Likud source, who attended the negotiations, told Ha’aretz.

“The main reason I have not been able to finish forming the coalition until now is – and I’ll say this as plainly as possible – the fact that certain parties are boycotting others,” Netanyahu said earlier this month.  “There’s a boycott against a sector in Israel and this goes against my views,” he said, in thinly veiled criticism of the political pact between Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi, which states that they will not join a coalition that includes the chareidi parties.

“I am doing everything within my power to unite the people. I think that we, as Jews who have suffered from bans, we cry out in protest when Israel is shunned in international forums – as we should. We protest when settlers in Judea and Samaria have to deal with product boycotts – as we should. So the people who have to be the most sensitive to this issue are the settlers.”

“Our history,” he continued, “is riddled with tragedies caused by unfounded hatred and internal fighting. Today, when we look around and see the myriad of challenges around us – security challenges, the challenges posed by the need to hold a responsible peace process – I believe these challenges require that we stand united, not divided.”

Netanyahu was appointed by Israeli President Shimon Peres to build a new government on Feb. 2 after Netanyahu and his Likud-Beytenu party won the Jan. 22 elections, gaining 31 seats in the Knesset (parliament) out of 120.

Netanyahu, who met with a strong alliance between Lapid and Bennett throughout the coalition talks, asked the president for an extension which is set to end on Saturday, March 16.

If nothing else fails, the teams will sort out the final details and allocate the portfolios to the ministers, announcing the new government officially by Wednesday, March 13.

Netanyahu, 63, was first elected prime minister in 1996.  He served for three years before again being elected in 2009.

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