Netanyahu Issues Coalition Ultimatum

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- With four days left before the deadline to form a coalition, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued an ultimatum to Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid.

"If there is no breakthrough in coalition negotiations with [Yesh Atid head] Yair Lapid in the next few hours and he doesn't back down from his excessive demands, the prime minister will initiate talks with the haredi parties," a Likud member told Israel Radio.

Netanyahu was hoping to present the fruits of his labor to President Shimon Peres Wednesday, which would have allowed the government to be sworn in by the end of the week.

Part of the battle is over the Education Ministry. Netanyahu wants Gideon Sa'ar to retain the portfolio for a second term, saying he's made significant progress in Israeli schools and should be allowed to continue. Yesh Atid turned down an offer to co-lead the ministry with Sa'ar.

Possibly in anticipation of the continuing stalemate with Lapid, Netanyahu met Tuesday evening with Shas chairman Eli Yishai, who served as interior minister in the last government. Yishai is co-chairing the party with Aryeh Deri, who re-entered politics after serving two years of a three-year sentence for breach of trust.

If Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett makes good on his promise not to join the coalition without Lapid, Israelis could find themselves going to the polls for a second time in a few months.

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