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Diplomacy & Politics
GIL HOFFMAN \
Netanyahu’s coalition options seen to be closing
Benjamin Netanyahu .
(photo credit:© Marc Israël Sellem)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s efforts to build a broad national unity
government suffered multiple setbacks on Monday when his potential coalition
partners refused to compromise on key issues.The first setback occurred
when Netanyahu met Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett at the Prime Minister’s
Office in Tel Aviv. While both sides declined to reveal what was discussed at
the meeting, both said afterward that Bayit Yehudi would continue coordinating
coalition strategy with Yesh Atid.Netanyahu had wanted to break the
unwritten understanding between Bayit Yehudi and Yesh Atid, in which neither
party would join the coalition without the other.But Likud officials
said Bayit Yehudi and Yesh Atid were fully coordinating their negotiation
strategy on every issue.Due to that deal, Netanyahu cannot threaten Yesh
Atid leader Yair Lapid that he will build a coalition without him. The prime
minister cannot even build a cohesive coalition of the 61 MKs on the
Center-Right.A statement released after the Netanyahu-Bennett meeting
said only that they had discussed the “issues of the day” and planned to meet
again. Unlike official statements released following the prime minister’s
previous meetings with party leaders, this statement did not mention a “good
atmosphere.”But the Likud spokeswoman who issued the statement said it
was not dictated by Netanyahu and that she actually had no idea how the meeting
went.The negotiating teams of Likud and Bayit Yehudi will meet in Ramat
Gan on Tuesday, after the Likud met Monday with a team from Yesh Atid.In
the meeting with Yesh Atid, Prof. Eugene Kandel, who heads the National Economic
Council, presented the Likud’s plan for equalizing the burden of military and
civilian national service. The plan calls for the IDF to set gradually rising
targets for drafting haredim. If the targets are not met, the yeshivas will be
fined.But Yesh Atid wants to see limits placed on the number of
ultra-Orthodox men who avoid the army rather than the institution of manpower
targets for the draft.Although the party’s negotiators did not reject
the Likud’s plan outright, they did give an impression that there was little
chance they would accept the plan.One issue Likud and Yesh Atid
negotiators did not discuss was portfolios. Lapid wants that issue kept for the very end of the talks because he fears that
otherwise he will lose leverage on key issues that are important to his
party.“About 99.9 percent of what you read in the papers about the
negotiations is not actually happening,” Lapid told his Knesset faction. “There
are no discussions on portfolios. No one spoke to our negotiating team on that.
Whatever you are reading is mere speculation that is not connected to
us.”Shas co-chairman Eli Yishai attacked Lapid at a meeting of the Shas
faction. He said Lapid was working to ensure that the government would lack
haredi parties, even though Lapid has never said that he wants a coalition
without Shas and United Torah Judaism.MK Tzipi Livni told her Knesset
faction that Netanyahu cannot take for granted that her Tzipi Livni Party would
join the government. She said her negotiators were conducting talks with Likud
quietly, “without press briefings and political spin.”Labor leader
Shelly Yacimovich started preparing for the possibility that Yesh Atid would not
be part of the government on Monday. She met Arab MKs and asked for their
support if there is a race in the Knesset for head of the opposition between her
and Lapid.Yacimovich took pains to deny a rumor that she would agree to
bring Labor into the government if she was offered the Finance
Ministry.“There is no truth to the rumors that if I am given the Finance
portfolio, we will sit in the government,” Yacimovich wrote on
Facebook.“We will not return to being the contractors of Netanyahu. It
will not happen.Whoever insists on making this a debate on portfolios is
making a mistake ethically and politically,” she said.“It is not about
portfolios,” she added.“It is about our path. The portfolios that are
most dear to our hearts are the ones that someone intends to use to bankrupt our
economy, with dangerous policies that are being crafted as we speak.” •
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