Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was closer to forming a new coalition Sunday after the head of the far-right Jewish Home party relinquished his demand for the foreign ministry, political sources said.
Netanyahu, whose Likud party won a surprise victory in a March 17 election, has until May 6 to piece together a new government, after receiving a 14-day extension last week.
Despite a month of intensive negotiations, Netanyahu has not yet managed to form a coalition, expected to comprise six rightwing and religious parties and have 67 of parliament’s 120 seats.
Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, currently economy minister, had been demanding the foreign ministry, held now by hardline nationalist Yisrael Beitenu leader Avidgor Lieberman.
But over the weekend Bennett set his sights instead on the education ministry and formally asked Netanyahu for the portfolio on Saturday, sources close to the negotiations told AFP.
Education is an especially important issue for the national religious constituency represented by Bennett’s party.
Netanyahu was due to reply in the next few days.
The sources said Bennett’s decision paved the way for his party, which dropped from 12 to eight seats in the recent vote, to receive three portfolios.
Israeli media said Jewish Home would also be receiving the agriculture and culture ministries, while Lieberman — whose party dropped from 11 to six seats — would remain foreign minister.
Besides his Likud party with 30 seats, Jewish Home and Yisrael Beitenu, Netanyahu’s projected coalition is expected to include the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism and the centre-right Kulanu.