UTJ, Kulanu Sign on To Likud Coalition

YERUSHALAYIM -

After more than five weeks of negotiations, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu finally signed coalition agreements with two parties, United Torah Judaism and Kulanu, on Wednesday.

The agreement with UTJ ushers in a partial rollback of anti-charedi legislation in the previous government aimed at yeshivos and the economic basis of the Torah community.

The prime minister agreed to agreed to alter a universal enlistment law and to abolish sanctions against yeshivah bachurim who refused to join the IDF. He also agreed to undo the changes to the country’s conversion law, pledging to tighten criteria that the previous government had loosened by giving local municipal Rabbis discretionary power at the expense of the Chief Rabbinate.

The child benefit stipends that were cut in the previous government will be returned to 2012 levels.

As part of the agreement, MK Rabbi Yaakov Litzman will once again assume the position of deputy health minister without a minister above him, MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni will return to the Chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee, MK Rabbi Meir Porush will serve as deputy Education Minister, MK Rabbi Uri Maklev will serve as Chairman of a committee, MK Rabbi Yisrael Eichler will serve as deputy Knesset Speaker for half a term as part of a rotation and MK Rabbi Menachem Eliezer Mozes will serve as the Chairman of UTJ Knesset faction.

Subsidized dental care, which was initiated by Rabbi Litzman during his last tenure as deputy Health Minister will be restored.

Negotiations is continuing with Shas (seven seats) and the party has reportedly been has been promised a number of key portfolios. The Religious Services Ministry, which was promised to Shas, has yet to be formally given to the party because of objections from Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Jewish Home party (eight seats) who held the portfolio himself in the last government.

Bennett, for his part, is reported slated to receive the Education Ministry, as well as two other portfolios. He is also demanding a commitment that during the government’s term, no freeze in construction in Yehudah and Shomron will be implemented.

According to deal reached with Kulanu, as expected, Moshe Kachlon was given the Finance Ministry, as expected, while his party will receive the Housing and Construction Ministry and the Environmental Protection Ministry.

They will also receive control of the Israel Lands Authority and the Central Planning Committee that Netanyahu removed from the Interior Ministry — which was previously tentatively promised to Shas, hitherto preventing the deal with Kulanu.

A Kulanu MK will also head the Knesset’s Labor and Welfare Committee, and the party maintained the right to vote against the government on a number of bills that seek to curtail the Supreme Court.

In signing up United Torah Judaism (six seats) and Kulanu (10), Netanyahu, whose Likud party won 30 seats in the March elections, now has the backing of 46 Knesset seats, still 15 seats shy of the 61 needed to form a new government.