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Netanyahu’s coalition options seen to be closing
By GIL HOFFMAN
12/02/2013
Prime minister's efforts to build broad coalition suffer setbacks after potential partners refuse to compromise on key issues.
 
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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