As the deadline for forming a new government drew ever closer, the reason for the almost month-long impasse in negotiations finally emerged on Thursday night: Yesh Yatid leader Yair Lapid’s price for joining a Netanyahu government is that there be no chareidi parties at the table.
Attorney David Shimron, a member of the Likud-Beiteinu negotiating team, told the media following a lengthy meeting with representatives of Yesh Atid that “as far as their party is concerned, there is no room for including chareidim in the next government.”
Shimron sought to dispel any impression that Likud-Beiteinu also wants the chareidim out. “In contrast to reports published over the past day, according to which the prime minister is planning to create a narrow government, the negotiating team will continue its efforts to create a broad-based government,” he said.
Shas leader Aryeh Deri issued a statement on Thursday pointing out the hypocrisy of Israel’s new political “star,” Yair Lapid: “Today it was made clear that behind the supposed concern for ‘equal sharing of the burden’ stands pure hatred for chareidim,” Ynet reported.
A statement from Yesh Atid did not address the charges directly, saying only, “Yesh Atid will continue to stick to its principles, and it hopes that the composition of the next government will reflect the desire of the people for change.”
Shimron said that the next step will be to clarify at a meeting Friday morning whether Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party, which has been planning negotiating strategy with Lapid, is also intent on making its participation in the next government conditional on the absence of chareidim.
Sources in Jewish Home were quoted by Israel Radio on Thursday night saying that they would not exclude any potential coalition partners.
Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin urged Bennett to join the coalition, saying, “The last time an attempt was made to form a rightist government without the chareidi parties and with a divided national camp, it ended with the [Gaza] disengagement. We musn’t repeat past mistakes.”
MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) asserted that Bennett and Lapid are together on the issue. “They don’t want chareidim in the government, no matter what. Equal sharing of the burden is just an excuse.”
Furthermore, he said, “The tear about to divide chareidim and religious Zionism will be hard to repair. It was never as bad as it is today.”
It was not immediately clear what impact the disclosure will have on Netanyahu’s prospects for presenting President Shimon Peres with a ready-to-go coalition. A meeting between the two has already been scheduled for Motzoei Shabbos, and it’s expected that Netanyahu will request — and receive — a two-week extension.
Earlier in the day, Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman said that the country would not have to go through another election and that a government will be formed even if its makeup remains uncertain at this juncture.
Lieberman told Army Radio, “We still haven’t given up on the chareidi parties. There’s a real chance that they will join,” though the military exemption quotas being proposed by Lapid and Bennett, if adopted, would make it impossible for them to be a part of the government.
Regarding Jewish Home’s demand to revise the coalition agreement with Tzipi Livni, Lieberman said that the deal was signed and it will be honored. Livni’s appointment to be justice minister and lead negotiations with the Palestinians provoked strong objections from Jewish Home MKs.
“There is a chance that the Labor party will join, too,” he added. “A smaller chance, but it exists.” Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich has repeatedly rejected the option.
“Most of the Jewish Home and Labor party voters want to see their parties in the government,” he argued.
Lieberman dismissed suggestions that the long process of coalition building shows that Netanyahu is in trouble. “I can’t recall any government that was established within 28 days,” he said.
Meanwhile, a report surfaced in the Israeli media late Thursday, based on unnamed sources, that President Barack Obama will cancel his scheduled March 20 visit to Israel if Netanyahu has not formed a coalition government before then.