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Netanyahu sets meeting to request extension in forming government

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with President Shimon Peres to request an extension in forming a government.

Their meeting was scheduled for Saturday night at the end of Shabbat, which is the deadline for forming a government.

Under law, Netanyahu can request an up to two-week extension, which Peres already has said he he will approve. With the extension, Netanyahu will have until March 16 — four days before the arrival of President Obama for his first trip to Israel as president — to form a government.

Netanyahu’s Likud party said earlier this week that it was nearing an agreement with the right-wing Jewish Home party. Naftali Bennett, who heads Jewish Home, and Yair Lapid, chief of the centrist Yesh Atid party, have agreed to either enter the government or remain in the opposition together. Both parties have set as a priority passing legislation to require haredi Orthodox yeshiva students to serve in the military.

Observers say it is likely that Netanyahu will eschew the haredi Orthodox parties in order to sign coalition agreements with Jewish Home and Yesh Atid.

The haredi Orthodox Shas party said Thursday that it will not join the Netanyahu government in the future if it is not included from the start of the new government.

“We will not allow Netanyahu to create the coalition in two stages,” a senior Shas official told Haaretz. “If the prime minister doesn’t want us as part of the government now, we will take the opposition benches for the rest of the term and we will vote against his government’s policies.”

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