September 27, 2023

The move comes amid speculations that no breakthrough was made in negotiations about ministerial positions

Right-wing Likud party led by incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled coalition talks with lawmakers of Religious Zionism and United Torah Judaism parties scheduled for Wednesday, according to media reports.

With the most seats in the Israeli parliament, Likud is best placed to form a new government, and is reportedly in talks with outgoing government parties Yesh Atid and National Unity, according to Israeli media reports – that were subsequently denied by Likud.

The move comes amid speculations that Netanyahu and Religious Zionism’s leader Bezalel Smotrich reached no breakthrough in negotiations about his ministerial position in the upcoming government.

Smotrich is said to have demanded to be appointed Israel’s next defense minister, which Netanyahu is reluctant to agree to. He is allegedly trying to convince the ultra-Orthodox Shas party’s leader Aryeh Deri to take the defense portfolio.

Deri is, however, believed to have his eyes on the Finance Ministry. Other reports suggest that the next prime minister wants to give this position to a member of his own party with Likud lawmaker Yoav Gallant, who is a former army major general, named as the top candidate.

Religious Zionism is also allegedly seeking education and religious affairs portfolios.

“Netanyahu is stuck between a rock and a hard place – he needs to appease his coalition partners, form a right wing government quickly, and actually assigning ministerial portfolios based on skill, qualifications and experience,” International and Political Affairs correspondent Batya Levinthal said.

She noted that throwing a wrench into the mix is the United States – Israel’s biggest ally – who is reported to be getting heavily involved in pressuring Netanyahu not to place far-right leaders in top ministries that the U.S. will have a “hard” time working with.

“It’s clear that Netanyahu as well as the Likud party are the most moderate of the coalition and Netanyahu himself is a veteran in Israel-U.S. ties but given it’s the place of the biggest diaspora Jewry – Netanyahu’s return to power this time seems to be off to a rather rocky start both internally and externally,” Levinthal added.

Netanyahu officially received a mandate to form a government on Sunday. He has several weeks to form a majority coalition, which is expected to consist of his Likud party, far-right Religious Zionism, and the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties. Together they hold 64 seats in the 120-seat Israeli parliament, the Knesset, which was sworn-in on Tuesday.

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