Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party today clinched coalition deals with the centre-right Kulanu Party and ultra-orthodox faction United Torah Judaism (UTJ), as they became the first official partners ahead of the deadline to form a coalition on May 7.
Kulanu, headed by former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon, will be given control of the finance, environmental protection, and housing and construction portfolios, as well as the head of the Israel Land Administration, under its deal.
UTJ party head Yaakov Litzman will be handed the Health Ministry and appointed its deputy minister. Kulanu MK Meir Porush will be appointed deputy Education Minister while MK Moshe Gafni will head the powerful Knesset Finance Committee, which was previously demanded by Kahlon during negotiations with Likud. The party will also take hold of the Science and Space Committee.
Under the deal with UTJ, several major reforms drafted by the previous government, aimed at integrating the ultra-Orthodox community into Israeli society, will be frozen, including legislation that would have phased Haredim into mandatory military or national service.
The addition of the parties brings Netanyahu’s coalition up to 46 seats, meaning he requires only 15 more to form a government by the May 7 deadline.
A major stumbling block in coalition talks with the Likud’s other potential partners remains over the Religious Affairs Ministry, reportedly offered to the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party Shas, over the vociferous objections of Jewish Home and Yisrael Beitenu.
Jewish Home’s leader Naftali Bennett is reportedly frustrated that Netanyahu has promised the ministry to Aryeh Deri’s Shas.
The prime minister is racing against the clock to establish a new government by the May 7 deadline. Under Israeli election rules, if Netanyahu fails to form a coalition by that date, President Reuven Rivlin can assign someone else the task of doing so.