JERUSALEM, March 10 (Xinhua) -- With an extended deadline just days away, incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is intensifying his efforts to finalize the formation of a new ruling coalition, which is expected to be announced in less than a week.
At Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that it could be the last gathering of the current government, hinting the talks on forming a new governing coalition will end soon.
He said the fundamentals of the next government have been laid out and that nearly all topics have been touched upon.
However, one topic that is still being debated is the number of ministers that will man the next government -- whether it will be 18, as centrist Yair Lapid demands, or between 23 and 25, as it appears to be.
Another topic of debate is several portfolios desired by both members of the Yesh Atid Party and members of Netanyahu's Likud Party, including the ministries of welfare and social services, education and internal affairs.
It appears that Lapid, former journalist-turned-politician, who led his centrist Yesh Atid Party in becoming the second largest in Israeli politics, will be named the next finance minister, while it remains to be seen what other roles the party's members will receive.
Naftali Bennet, leader of the nationalist Jewish Home party, will become the next trade, labor and industry minister, and another member of his party will become the housing minister, according to Israeli media.
Tzipi Livni, who signed a coalition agreement with Netanyahu a month ago and was the first to join the upcoming government, will be the justice minister and in charge of future talks with the Palestinians. Her party will also receive the portfolio of environmental protection.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu will hold the top diplomat's position open for former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is on trial for breach of trust and fraud, until the end of his trial, in case he will be exonerated.
The next defense minister will be, if there are no last minute surprises, Moshe Ya'alon from the Likud, who is the member of the Likud and outgoing minister of strategic affairs.
Netanyahu was appointed by Israeli President Shimon Peres on Feb. 2 to form a government, following the Jan. 22 elections, in which the Likud-Beytenu party got 31 out of the 120 seats in the Knesset (parliament).
Netanyahu has to show his new government on Saturday, after receiving a 14-day extension from Peres, as his original 28-day deadline to build a government ended.
Despite Netanyahu's repeated declarations of wanting a wide coalition, specifically with the center and the ultra-Orthodox lawmakers in it, that is not going to be the case.
The two that made it hard for Netanyahu to get his wishes are Lapid, a political newcomer whose party Yesh Atid became the second largest in the elections with 19 seats, and Jewish Home nationalist party led by the hawkish Bennet.
The two, whose combined electorates is 31, the same as the Likud, formed an alliance, vowing not to enter Netanyahu's coalition without the others and demanding to draft ultra-Orthodox into the army in order to fulfill their campaign promises of an equal share of the burden in the Israeli society.
After other efforts failed, Netanyahu finally "caved" in to their demands, and the two parties will be in the next government, unlike the ultra-Orthodox, Netanyahu's "natural partners."
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