After almost four weeks of official coalition talks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to arrive at President Shimon Peres' residence on Saturday to receive a 14-day extension to form a government.
While the president has legal authority to issue a two-week extension, in practice, due to the Knesset's procedural rules, this would give Netanyahu an additional 22 days to present his coalition to the Knesset. If granted the extension, he would have to conclude talks by March 16 and then inform Acting Knesset Speaker MK Binyamin (Fouad) Ben-Eliezer that his government is ready to be sworn in. Ben-Eliezer would then set in motion a process that would culminate with the Knesset plenum convening several days later to vote on the new government.
Article 13b of the Basic Law: Government stipulates that this session must take place within seven days of the Knesset speaker being informed on the new government. Thus, Netanyahu would have until March 24. With Passover Eve falling on March 25, the Knesset may decide to postpone the vote by another week.
Meanwhile, talks between Likud-Yisrael Beytenu and the other parties have entered crunch time. The talks are primarily focused on whether Yesh Atid and the haredi parties can coexist in the coalition. Another lingering question is whether the alliance between Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi can withstand the various and intensive efforts to break it.
People in Netanyahu's inner circle say he is currently trying to forge a coalition that would include the haredim, Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi. Talks with Habayit Hayehudi have intensified over the past several days, with a special emphasis placed on a new national service mechanism and the state budget. The Likud-Beytenu and Habayit Hayehudi held two additional meetings on Wednesday.
Yesh Atid and Likud-Beytenu negotiators were expected to meet Thursday. Likud-Beytenu officials reported significant progress on Wednesday after holding talks with Habayit Hayehudi, saying the two sides had bridged some of the gaps on a military draft bill that would be acceptable to both Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi. Habayit Hayehudi and Yesh Atid have reportedly agreed on a joint stance on the matter.
Habayit Hayehudi officials say that the alliance with Yesh Atid will remain intact and that the former will enter the government only if the latter enters as well. However, they stressed that the alliance will expire once the parties join the government and that after the parties' ministers are sworn in, the factions would go their separate ways and neither would be bound by the other.
Likud-Beytenu officials say that it would not be possible to convince Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to sit with the haredim as he would like to see them left out of the government for political reasons, even if there is agreement on the new military draft bill.
The ruling party has mulled the possibility of signing a coalition agreement with the haredim if no progress is made in the coming days. Officials in the party believe that if this happens, Habayit Hayehudi would pressure Yesh Atid to join the government. Alternatively, Habayit Hayehudi might become convinced it should discard the alliance with Lapid and enter the government without Yesh Atid.
On Wednesday, Channel 2 reported that Netanyahu associates had informed haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism that they might have to stay out of the government until a new national service bill and the 2013 state budget is passed. Sources at the Prime Minister's Office and the Likud negotiating team denied the report.
Haredi lawmakers rejected such a two-phased approach outright on Wednesday. One top Shas official said the party would "serve as a true opposition and would not enter the government in a future date or in any later phase."
"A haredi-free government would not survive and we would have no interest in entering such a government, we would simply wait for it to topple," he said.
Some politicians believe, however, that the haredim may indeed be left out of the coalition for several months. They say that the haredim would be promised several portfolios which would remain vacant until they officially joined the coalition, after the budget was passed and the new draft mechanism was enacted.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai from Shas attacked Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi on Thursday and stressed that his party could serve Israel well from the opposition benches.
"I don't know what the future has in store. The various reports suggest that Lapid and Bennett's efforts to have Shas out of the government are bearing fruit for now," he wrote on his Facebook page.
"The recent election resulted in an almost impossible reality: despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerging victorious, some are abusing the rules of the game by ignoring the will of the people in an attempt to impose their own values and opinions on others. How's that for new politics. Sitting in the coalition, and holding portfolios and other titles are not a goal in and of itself. They are a means. They are a means to serve the general public.
"Saying you are going to be part of the opposition, if that becomes necessary, should not be considered foul language. Those who have come to serve the public and consider it their over-arching concern should do so regardless of their location. It is unfortunate that some have been rallying against the world of the Torah and its representatives in politics. It is unfortunate that some politicians are not ripe and fail to realize that change must be effected with respect, understanding and handshaking, not through alienation, radicalization and the ruling out of others. It is unfortunate that they have failed to realize that their actions may transform a society that has divisions into a society that is divided."
Yishai further stressed that being in the opposition was as plausible as entering the government.
"Shas will strive to be part of the next government, and to continue where it has left off when it comes to housing, internal affairs, the defense of the state's Jewish character, the return of the infiltrators back to their home countries and so forth," he said.
"But it will not engage in a sell-out of its values, its convictions and its principles for sake of sitting in the same government as those whose only common denominator is their shared desire to hurt the world of the Torah, which has protected us and served as our identity over the years. Shas may take part in the government, but it will not hesitate, if the need arises, to serve as a worthy and determined alternative, until the government serves out its term."