Coalition Talks Move Forward as Deadline Looms

YERUSHALAYIM -

As a week of rumors and denials drew to a close, coalition talks appeared to move forward on Thursday night with news of a partial agreement among Likud-Beiteinu, Yesh Atid and Jewish Home concerning ministry jobs and peacemaking.

It was reportedly agreed that any peace treaty with the Palestinians will require a national referendum. In addition, the two-state solution, to which Netanyahu has committed himself, will not be mentioned in the coalition’s guidelines.

Those provisions were presumably aimed at appeasing Jewish Home MKs, who objected strenuously to the appointment of Tzipi Livni as chief negotiator with the Palestinians. They have accused her of being willing to divide Yerushalayim, which she denied.

With only nine days left until the deadline for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to form a government, much of the discussion continued to revolve around a suitable job for Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid. Lapid wants foreign minister but won’t be getting it, and he could get finance minister but doesn’t want it.

There was speculation Thursday night that Lapid will take the Education Ministry portfolio for MK Shay Piron, as well as the combined health and welfare portfolios, Ynet reported.

Yesh Atid showed flexibility on the issue of the size of the Cabinet, accepting a drop from 30 to 23, or 24 after Lieberman’s return, relinquishing the party’s campaign promise of 18. However, a law is to be passed within a month of the government being signed in that will set a limit of 18 ministers, starting after the next election.

Yesh Atid continued to pursue its agenda for destroying the status quo on state-religion issues, demanding the government’s statement of basic principles — which are signed on by all coalition partners — include the specific targets of drafting yeshivah students, public transportation on Shabbos, allowing civil marriages and imposing a core secular curriculum on chareidi schools.

While Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett has come out over the past two days with statements trying to pacify chareidi worries over his commitment to the anti-religious Yesh Atid party, his party’s requests were couched in general terms, such as “a commitment to new discourse on matters of religion and state in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance” and “a commitment to create solutions for chareidim in the IDF and national service by creating new options that suit this public, and not by force.”

The religious party is reportedly willing to compromise on chillul Shabbos, allowing transportation in non-chareidi areas with a stipulation that religious drivers will not be pressured to work on Shabbos.

On the issue of portfolios, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid denied that his party and the Jewish Home party had given Netanyahu a joint ultimatum over ministry jobs, The Jerusalem Post reported.

A Yesh Atid official said that the two parties have now been joined by Kadima in an alliance to force Netanyahu to do their bidding. If true, Kadima’s two MKs would give the triumvirate a total of 33, more than the 31 MKs under the Likud-Beiteinu banner.

They were reportedly demanding the Foreign and Finance ministries, threatening to shun the coalition if they didn’t get them. Netanyahu has refused to turn over the Foreign Ministry to Lapid since he has publicly promised it to Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman.

Lapid released a statement saying “it is not true and not honorable… Netanyahu is the one forming the government and neither of us would give an ultimatum to the prime minister.”

Meanwhile on Thursday, a poll from Panels Politics said that if elections were held again today, Likud-Beiteinu and Yesh Atid would reverse positions as the No. 1 and No. 2 parties. Likud-Beiteinu, it said, would get just 23 seats instead of 31, versus 29 for Yesh Atid, which now has 19. Jewish Home would also fare well, jumping from its current 12 to 18.

Labor and Shas would both lose votes, going down to 13 and 9 seats respectively from 15 and 11. Tzipi Livni’s Movement party would sink from 6 to a mere 3 seats.