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Haredi parties push to be included in next gov't
By GIL HOFFMAN
27/01/2013
Yesh Atid, Shas leaders in back-channel contact on cooperating in coalition; Shas downplay reports about a haredi bloc with UTJ.
 
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will have no choice but to include Shas and United Torah Judaism in his coalition, despite Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid’s preference for a haredi-free government, sources in the two haredi parties said over the weekend.

A source in Shas said messages were being relayed between Lapid and Shas’s Arye Deri, in an effort to reach common ground on key issues to enable the two parties to work together in the next government.

The sources said that despite tough talk in public by party leaders, progress was being made behind the scenes in private.

UTJ and Shas intend to raise their asking price following reports that Netanyahu does not plan to include Bayit Yehudi in his coalition. Shas officials said they were emboldened by a Channel 2 report that Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett had tried to incriminate Netanyahu when he was questioned about funding for the prime minister’s overseas trips in the so-called Bibi-Tours scandal.

Shas officials downplayed statements from UTJ MK Moshe Gafni about a proposed haredi bloc for coalition negotiations.

The Shas officials said the two parties were merely coordinating strategy on preventing the drafting of yeshiva students.

“There is a psychology that comes into play with negotiations,” a Shas source said.

“Forming a haredi bloc does not obligate us not to enter the Knesset without United Torah Judaism.”

Gafni said in radio interviews on Friday that he would not rule out sitting in a coalition with Yesh Atid, but vowed to maintain the principles his party shared with Shas.

“Yesh Atid did indeed receive 19 seats, but UTJ and Shas together have 18,” he told Army Radio. “On the matter of the status quo, on the issues of religion and drafting yeshiva students, it is impossible to impose different lifestyles on one another, and for this reason I believe that at the end of the day, common sense will prevail.”

UTJ MK-elect Meir Porush told the haredi website Kikar Shabbat on Friday that his party’s red line would be enabling every yeshiva student who wants to study Torah to defer army service. He advised Netanyahu to bring haredi parties into his coalition first and only then turn to Yesh Atid and The Tzipi Livni Party, in order to lower the asking price of the parties on the Center-Left.

“Netanyahu understands that he can count on his natural partners more than parties that will drift off the political map,” Porush said.

“Once it was [former justice minister Yosef] “Tommy” Lapid. Today it is Yair Lapid. There was the Democratic Movement for Change and the Center Party. We are stable and have been running for 64 years and Netanyahu knows that he cannot take his natural partners and throw them away after they have gone so far with him.”

Transportation Minister Israel Katz (Likud), who is close to Netanyahu, told Channel 2’s Meet the Press program on Saturday night that more than 80 MKs in the incoming Knesset represent parties that supported Netanyahu remaining prime minister. He said Netanyahu intended to form the widest possible coalition.

Labor MK Eitan Cabel dared Netanyahu on Friday to form a centrist coalition without right-wing and haredi parties. Despite Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich’s pledge to lead the opposition, Cabel said Labor could join a coalition that was truly centrist.

“If the prime minister would have the courage – and he doesn’t – so it’s no more than wishful thinking... if he would call us, Kadima, Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid and would say ‘You are my coalition,’ that would be difficult for us to refuse,” Cabel said in an interview with Army Radio.

Kadima officials have advised party chairman Shaul Mofaz that if he takes his two-man faction into the coalition, he should quit the Knesset to enable the third candidate on the party’s Knesset list, outgoing MK Yohanan Plesner, to return to the Knesset. Mofaz faced criticism inside Kadima for not focusing its campaign on equalizing the burden of IDF service, a cause Plesner put at the top of the public’s agenda.

Tamara Zieve contributed to this report.
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