Netanyahu Close to Coalition Deal

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly nearing closure with the two parties that finished second and third in the elections, which would give him more than the 61 Knesset seats he needs to form the next Israeli government.

Yesh Atid (There is a Future) and Habayit Hayeudi (Jewish Home) made a pact that neither would enter the government without the other.

A precondition for both parties is a commitment by Netanyahu to change the universal draft status quo that till now has allowed the majority of ultra-Orthodox to opt out of military service.

Neither Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid nor Naftali Bennett, chairman of Jewish Home, are willing to accept the Haredi parties' opposition to equalizing the burden of compulsory military service.

Initially Lapid refused to even sit in the same government with the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, which Netanyahu has called his "natural partners" for years.

Friday marks the end of the 28-day period for forming a coalition that till now only includes Likud-Beiteinu, with 31 mandates, and the six-member Tzipi Livni Party, falling far short of the minimum 61 mandates needed to form a majority government.

Bringing Yesh Atid and Jewish Home into the government gives Netanyahu a comfortable 68-member coalition that excludes Shas and United Torah Judaism as well as the left-wing Meretz and Labor parties.

But it's not all smooth sailing.

Another fly in the ointment is Bennett's opposition to Livni's appointment as lead negotiator with the Palestinians, a position she filled under former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government.

At the time, it was rumored that Livni agreed to cede most of Judea and Samaria and many east Jerusalem neighborhoods.

In a 2010 interview, Livni told former Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief David Horowitz, "Additional building in the settlements, certainly beyond the security barrier, does not serve the vision of a Jewish, democratic, secure Israel in the Land of Israel."

Livni believes the majority of Israelis share her vision, though Naftali Bennett isn't one of them.

"My vision, shared by most of the Israeli public, speaks of the existence of Israel as a Jewish, democratic, secure state, a state living in peace, in the Land of Israel…the only way to maintain those values is to relinquish part of the Land of Israel," Livni concluded.

Bennett, on the other hand, is "vehemently against a Palestinian state within the Land of Israel."

"There is not going to be a Palestinian state within the tiny land of Israel," Bennett told The Guardian in a pre-election interview in January. "It's just not going to happen. A Palestinian state would be a disaster for the next 200 years."

"The Israeli-Palestinian issue is something we can talk about forever, but it's never going anywhere," he continued. "I can waste the next four years babbling about Israel and the Palestinians or the alternative is to say this is insoluble, so let's work out a modus vivendi with our neighbors the best we can. For too many years, Israel has been taken hostage by this conflict," he said.

Netanyahu has frequently suggested he is seeking the broadest coalition possible, especially as Iran moves closer to crossing the "red line" of uranium enrichment for nuclear weapons, a development the prime minister has warned about for more than a decade.

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