Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s key coalition partners seemed to give a tacit nod Thursday to the possibility of a building freeze within Jerusalem itself, despite a reiteration by Netanyahu that no such freeze would be enacted.
But while that potential source of coalition friction seemed to turn in the prime minister’s favor, other challenges to coalition unity arose during the day from Israel Beiteinu.
Shas officials volleyed about denials of a reported statement by the party’s spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, in which he supposedly told President Shimon Peres that in order to save lives, Shas would not oppose a US-urged building freeze in the capital. Although Shas officially denied that Yosef had made any such statement in the conversation with the president three weeks ago during Pessah, some Shas leaders – including Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Attias – stopped short of denying it outright.
In a radio interview Thursday, Attias said his party certainly believed in continuing building in the capital, but that it was also important not to damage the friendship between Israel and the United States.
Shas was not alone in its possible support for such a move. Officials in powerful coalition partner Israel Beiteinu said that their party, too, would not necessarily oppose a temporary freeze. While reiterating the importance of a unified Jerusalem as stated in party chairman Avigdor Lieberman’s Independence Day speech, one official also recalled that Israel Beiteinu had ultimately supported the current 10-month building freeze in Judea and Samaria as well.
At the same time, however, Israel Beiteinu delivered a bombshell of its own in the form of a threatening letter to Coalition Chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud). In the letter, which was seen by The Jerusalem Post, Israel Beiteinu faction chairman Robert Ilatov listed seven clauses of the coalition agreement between Israel Beiteinu and Likud that had yet to be upheld – and threatened that if any of the clauses were not advanced by the government, Ilatov’s party would break with coalition discipline and advance them as private members’ legislation during the Knesset’s summer session, set to begin next week.
The clauses at issue include Clause 30, which demanded the establishment of a permanent committee to examine the issue of a change in the system of government. A committee had been established, but, Ilatov complained, it met only infrequently and did not yield legislative fruit.
Then there are Clause 44, which sought a solution for all those in
Israel who were denied marriage by the Chief Rabbinate and for which a
committee has been established but has only met once; Clause 3 to the
agreement addendum, which would have set up an exemption from
television fees for elderly citizens; Clause 23, which provided for the
government to find a solution to the lack of affordable housing for
immigrants; Clause 34, which required the government to legislate a
bill that would allow citizens overseas to vote – and for which MK
David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) submitted a bill that was not advanced by
the end of the last session; Clauses 38 to 39.5, which concerned extra
rights for recently-released soldiers; and Clause 40, which called on
the government to amend the law “to confront the problem of disloyalty
to the state.”
Ilatov noted that the deadline set in the agreement for Clause 34 –
March 30 – had already passed, and that the June 30 deadline for the
institution of Clause 44 was fast approaching.
In early February, Lieberman held a press conference in which he said
that “there are many things in our coalition agreement that we intend
to fulfill,” and emphasized that “the law that will enable Israelis
overseas to vote will come up in April.”
With the Knesset reconvening on Monday, the foreign minister, who has
marketed himself on the slogan “deeds, not words,” will have less than
a week to back up that statement with legislation.