Coalition negotiations hit a dead end on Sunday night, with Likud Beytenu and Yesh Atid stuck on issues that proved difficult for them in previous talks – equality in the burden of national service and the number of ministers in the next government.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett and former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman met at the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday night in talks meant to resolve the remaining problems before a coalition is sworn in.
The two-hour meeting came to an end just before midnight on Sunday, although the parties' negotiating teams were continuing talks to formulate the final coalition agreement.
While Lapid no longer insists on an 18-minister cabinet, he opposes a Likud Beytenu proposal for 26 portfolios.
In addition, Yesh Atid and Likud Beytenu disagree on the wording of a bill requiring all citizens to enlist in the army, or perform national service, which will be brought to a vote shortly after the government is formed.
Bennett is serving as middleman between Netanyahu and Lapid, after repairing his relationship with the prime minister.
His alliance with Lapid stands strong. According to a Bayit Yehudi source, Bennett convinced Lapid to give up on his demand for the Foreign Ministry, which is being saved for MK Avigdor Liberman, and to take the Finance Ministry – even though Bennett wanted it for himself – for the sake of reaching a coalition deal.
Despite the disagreements, Bayit Yehudi showed clear signs of optimism that the coalition would be formed in the coming days, setting a central committee meeting for Wednesday evening. The Bayit Yehudi central committee is required to authorize any coalition agreement the party signs.
The central committee meeting is an indication that Netanyahu plans to present his government to President Shimon Peres and the Knesset on Tuesday or Wednesday, and that the ministers will be officially sworn in on Thursday.
Americans are training Syrian anti-government fighters in Jordan, the German weekly Der Spiegel said on Sunday, quoting what it said were participants and organizers.
Spiegel said it was not clear whether the Americans worked for private firms or were from the army but said some wore uniforms. The training focused on use of anti-tank weaponry.
Some 200 men have already received such training over the past three months and there are plans in the future to provide training for a total 1,200 members of the "Free Syrian Army" in two camps in the south and the east of the country.
Britain's Guardian newspaper also reported that US trainers were assisting Syrian rebels in Jordan. British and French instructors were also participating in the US-led effort, the Guardian said on Saturday, citing Jordanian security sources.