Netanyahu Hits Snags Trying to Form New Gov't.

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- The latest snag in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's efforts to form a coalition came Wednesday morning when Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid cancelled a meeting reportedly over his insistence on reducing the size of the government.

Lapid wants Netanyahu to trim the Cabinet down from the last government's 30 ministers and nine deputy ministers, the largest in Israel's history, to between 18 and 20, which he says will save millions of shekels.

Netanyahu reportedly is willing to cut back to between 24 and 28 ministers, but that's not the only issue.

Since Sunday, coalition talks with Yesh Atid (There is a Future) and Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) have focused on the top three ministries: Defense, Foreign Affairs and Finance.

Former Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who served as Israel Defense Forces chief of general staff under former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, will likely replace Ehud Barak as defense minister.

According to media reports, Lapid is interested in the Foreign Ministry, which Netanyahu said he's holding for Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, who served as foreign minister in the last government. But that depends on whether the court exonerates Lieberman on charges of breach of trust.

Lapid said his party's second place finish with 19 mandates carries more weight than Yisrael Beiteinu's 11 seats, making it the fifth largest party this time around.

The problem lies with the number of ministers competing for fewer portfolios. Seven Likud ministers may not receive portfolios in this government.

Meanwhile, Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett denied reports he's accepted an offer for finance minister, insisting he and Lapid will consult one another before either makes a final decision.

Netanyahu has until March 15 to form the next government.

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