Netanyahu begins talks to form new Israeli government

Jerusalem : Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday began negotiations for the formation of the next government, a process that will continue at best until the second half of April.

Negotiations kicked off with delegates of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, which won the March 17 elections with 30 seats, to be followed by a series of meetings in parliament with parties such as the ultra-orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism, Efe news agency reported.

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Talks are also being held with nationalist parties Israel Beitenu and Jewish Home, who are competing for defence and foreign portfolios.

Netanyahu, who is forming his third consecutive government with a decidedly right-wing coalition, prefers to leave these positions to Likud, although it is possible that Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Israel Beitenu, will stay on as foreign minister, a post he has held since 2013, reported the Yediot Aharonot newspaper on Thursday.

The prime minister will perhaps have more trouble with the centralist Kulanu party, whose leader, Moshe Kahlon, has already been promised the finance portfolio, through which he hopes to apply a series of social reforms to curb the housing crisis and high cost of living.

The same party, however, would also require two non-ministerial positions vital to implement such reforms, the presidency of the Parliamentary Finance Committee and the Interior Ministry Planning Administration, which Netanyahu has already promised to the ultra-Orthodox parties.

In protest, Kahlon ordered his team not to attend the negotiations with the Likud on Thursday.

Netanyahu received the mandate on Wednesday to form the government from Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

Israeli law provides for a period of 28 days to form a government after the prime minister receives the mandate, but he may request an extension of 14 days if needed.