OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has managed to reach an agreement over the shape of his new government after resolving an 11th-hour crisis with a key centrist partner, media reports said Wednesday.
The last-minute deal would see Israel’s new coalition government sworn in just days before a top-level visit by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Netanyahu has been locked in intensive coalition talks ahead of a looming March 16 deadline to announce the shape of his new government, which must have a working majority of at least 61 within the 120-seat Knesset.
Although the outline of the coalition emerged earlier this week, a dispute over which party would take the prestigious Education portfolio had threatened to derail the deal Wednesday.
The breakthrough came after Netanyahu agreed that the new centrist Yesh Atid party could take the Education portfolio, while the Interior Ministry would go to his right-wing Likud, Israel media reported.
The leaders of the main parties were scheduled to meet Wednesday to thrash out the wording of the agreement, though Israel’s Haaretz reported that Netanyahu, Yair Lapid, and Naftali Bennett had postponed any agreement until Thursday.
The proposed coalition would see Likud-Beitenu, which has 31 seats and is headed by Netanyahu and ex-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, form a government alongside Lapid’s Yesh Atid (19 seats) and Bennett’s far-right Jewish Home party (12).
Until now, only one party has formally agreed to join a Netanyahu coalition – the centrist HaTnuah of former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, which has six seats.
It was not immediately clear when the new government would be sworn in, with army radio suggesting it could be as early as Thursday while public radio said it would not happen until Monday, just two days before Obama arrives on March 20.