Coalition Outlook: Lapid, Bennett in, Chareidim Out

YERUSHALAYIM -
Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (R) and Minister of Home Front Defense Avi Dichter arrive for the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday. (Flash90)
Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (R) and Minister of Home Front Defense Avi Dichter arrive for the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday. (Flash90)

It took over a month, but Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is apparently now on the eve of forming a new government, the basis for which has been a boycott of the chareidi parties in order to push through the military draft of yeshivah students and other proposals aimed at destroying the status quo on state-religious issues.

However, late Sunday the negotiations reached yet another impasse, namely as the two main parties that will be joining the Likud — Yesh Atid and Jewish Home — sparred over new disagreements between them. The disputes ranged from distribution of portfolios to the government’s basic principles on religious issues to a supposed retraction by Yesh Atid on issues that were already agreed upon.

As progress stalled, Netanyahu summoned the parties’ two leaders, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, to a meeting at his office to try and iron out the differences.

Nevertheless, political analysts said that barring the unforeseen, Netanyahu will have cobbled together his coalition by Wednesday and it is expected to include Likud-Beiteinu, Yesh Atid, Jewish Home, Tzipi Livni’s Movement party and Kadima for a total of 70 seats.

Shas and United Torah Judaism will sit in the opposition, along with Labor, Meretz and the Arab parties.

Aside from a looming confrontation on the draft, public transportation on Shabbos, conversion standards and civil marriages, it was reported on Sunday that the coalition agreement will likely include serious cuts of child support subsidies, which will disproportionately hurt chareidi families.

In addition, the proposed cuts will be retroactive to children born before 2003.

The government expects to save approximately 2 billion shekels in this way.

Outgoing Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas). (Flash90)
Outgoing Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas). (Flash90)

MK Rabbi Yaakov Litzman criticized the proposal. “Israel currently has 750,000 children under the poverty line. Is the new government looking to double that number?”

Other economic decrees are needed to shrink a budget deficit of more than NIS 40 billion. Among the proposals to achieve this are raising the VAT from 17% to 18%, raising the retirement age for women to 67 and imposing VAT on fruits and vegetables, which are currently exempt.

Outgoing Interior Minister Eli Yishai of Shas delivered a scathing attack as the news broke over the weekend, saying that “the stain of boycotting the public I represent — whether the traditional, chareidi or secular — will not be erased.”

Yishai warned that Lapid will turn on Jewish Home and its constituency, but that Shas would not be vengeful.

“When Lapid moves on to his next mission, harming Yehudah and Shomron communities, our brothers [there] won’t have to knock on our doors for help. We will report without waiting for the call. We have always been there and we’ll always be there.

“Shas has no intention of turning the knife stabbed in our back in your direction. We will prove to you that, even from our new place, that we remain loyal to our perception and faith that we are real brothers.”

His co-leader of the Shas party, MK Aryeh Deri placed the blame squarely on Netanyahu, appealing to the prime minister on Sunday not to lend his hand to “a boycott of two million people” who will be without representation in the government.

“You cannot wash your hands of it. I have no doubt that history will judge severely one who allows this to happen,” Deri said.

The four Shas ministers did not attend the weekly Cabinet meeting on Sunday, probably the last of the outgoing government. Sources in Shas denied they boycotted it, explaining that they had conflicting personal engagements.

Although the disposition of ministerial portfolios remained uncertain as of Sunday, reports from sources in the negotiations indicated that either Yesh Yatid leader Yair Lapid or Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett would be appointed Finance Minister, and that they would divide Health, Religious Affairs, Interior and the Knesset Finance Committee chairmanship between them.

A dispute arose on Sunday regarding the Education portfolio, currently held by Likud’s Gideon Saar. Yesh Atid has set its eyes on the ministry, but the Likud has resisted giving it up. At press time, it is one of the as yet unresolved disagreements.

At the same time a compromise on the reduction of Cabinet posts to 24, helping to pave the way for Yesh Atid to join, is creating a backlash in Likud-Beiteinu.

Rumblings of discontent over coalition developments could be heard from within the Likud on Sunday.

Party officials threatened an “intifada,” over what they call “Netanyahu’s failure to give out [ministerial] positions” to Likud members, according to Haaretz.

Up-and-coming Likud MKs, who ranked high in the party primary — Ze’ev Elkin, Danny Danon, Tzipi Hotovely, Yariv Levin and others — are likely to be denied appointments that they believe their popularity entitles them to. Netanyahu decided to distribute the reduced number of portfolios available to the Likud among existing ministers only; there will be no new Likud ministers.

“I hope the prime minister will consider the results of the primary,” Danon, ninth on the Likud list, said. “He needs to [go by the party list], because the Likud is a democracy. Netanyahu can’t ignore what Likud voters want,” Danon added.

Another loser in the governmental re-shuffle will be Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud). Despite pre-election promises that Rivlin would have Netanyahu’s support for another term as Speaker, the latter appears to be switching to Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein, who has the backing of Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman.

“Netanyahu doesn’t want a liberal Likud, but a Lieberman-style Likud,” a party official said, adding, “Netanyahu’s increased closeness to Lieberman at the expense of the liberal camp — Rivlin, [Dan] Meridor and [Benny] Begin — is very worrisome.”

“Rivlin is the first to be disappointed. He is learning what other high-ranking party members to whom Netanyahu made promises learned — that Netanyahu’s word is worthless,” another official said.