A meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took place and ended “on a positive note,” Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman said Wednesday. The two discussed a strategy for defense and maintaining the status quo on religious affairs. Discussions will continue via negotiating teams for Yisrael Beytenu and the Likud, the two parties said in a joint statement.
The statement was a welcome relief to the Likud team, after statements by Liberman about the near-impossibility of forming a coalition, given the heavy influence of chareidi and religious parties. Shas, United Torah Jewry, and the United Right List constitute 20 MKs, and many MKs in the Likud are themselves either observant or very sympathetic to issues concerning the chareidi parties – such as the draft law.
Earlier in the week, Liberman said that he saw Yisrael Beytenu’s chief task in the government as “halting unilateral efforts to turn Israel into a halachic state. We are not trying to prevent the formation of a right-wing government, but it is our responsibility to prevent radicalism and religious coercion. Anyone unilaterally tries to impose their will on the majority of Israelis – who are far from the chareidi worldview – will be responsible for the failure of coalition negotiations.”
Responding to the comments, Shas leader Rabbi Aryeh Deri said “I am hearing much talk about how we want to set up a ‘halachic state,’ and that is not our intention at all. We are seeking to preserve the status quo on religious matters. It is other groups that are trying to change that” and erode the status quo in a secular direction. “We want a traditional Jewish state, and we will remain firm on that,” he said, adding that Shas would make a special effort to ensure that yeshivas were properly funded, after budgets were pared over the past several years.
“There is no possibility for another government other than the one the Israeli people elected all of the parties on the right for,” Rabbi Deri said at Tuesday at a meeting of Shas MKs before the official seating of MKs. “It’s either this government or new elections. There is no other option. It’s a shame to throw out empty threats and set red lines that will be eventually crossed.”