Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his outgoing cabinet on Sunday for what he said was probably the last time, signalling he was close to completing the formation of a new government.
Mr. Netanyahu’s deadline to present a governing coalition is Saturday, and political commentators predicted he would announce by midweek that he had an administration in place.
The Israeli leader is under pressure to form a government ahead of a long-awaited visit by U.S. President Barack Obama. Mr. Netanyahu’s office said the three-day visit – Mr. Obama’s first since becoming President – will begin March 20 and Israeli media reports say it will include talks with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank city of Ramallah .
Mr. Netanyahu was finalizing political partnerships with two parties that made surprisingly strong showings in the Jan. 22 election – centrist Yesh Atid, led by former TV anchor Yair Lapid, and far-right Jewish Home, headed by high-tech millionaire Naftali Bennett. The centrist Kadima party, which fell from 28 to just two seats, is also expected to join Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition.
“It appears that this will be the last meeting of this government,” Mr. Netanyahu said in public remarks at the weekly cabinet session.
With Yesh Atid, Jewish Home, Kadima and the small, centrist Hatnuah party, which has already signed a coalition pact, Mr. Netanyahu is set to control 70 of parliament’s 120 seats.
The Labour party and ultra-Orthodox and Arab factions will be in opposition.
Mr. Lapid, 49, gained wide backing among young, secular voters and has called for a resumption of peace talks with Palestinians that have been frozen for two years in a dispute over Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank. Mr. Bennett, 40, rejects any future Palestinian state and has strong support among Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Israeli media said he would get the industry and trade cabinet post.