Yesh Atid, Bayit Yehudi and Shas one-upped each other, trying to show tenacity in the first day of coalition negotiations with Likud Beytenu on Sunday, as the talks centered around haredi national service.
Likud Beytenu sources indicated that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu prefers to have Shas in the coalition, even at the expense of Yesh Atid, should his team find it too challenging to bridge the differences between them and have a coalition with both – but hopes Lapid’s party will be flexible in its many coalition demands.
Meanwhile, Likud Beytenu representatives, attorneys David Shimron and Yoav Mani, as well as former Prime Minister’s Office director-general Moshe Leon were tightlipped going in and out of the Kfar Hamaccabiah hotel in Ramat Gan where the talks took place, with a party spokeswoman only saying they were generally productive and the atmosphere was positive.
Yesh Atid’s team also kept mum on progress in coalition talks, but privately said that party leader Yair Lapid would rather stay in the opposition and “bring down Netanyahu in a year-and-a-half” than compromise, according to a Channel 2 news report.
Lapid is reportedly demanding to be foreign minister, and wants his party to have the Education, Justice, and Construction and Housing portfolios, as well as the Knesset Finance Committee. In addition, he has repeatedly demanded that the next government have no more than 18 ministers, after the last one reached a record high of 30.
Yesh Atid also has a detailed plan requiring haredim to enlist in the IDF or civilian service, which it seeks to pass as legislation, and would make it difficult for Shas and United Torah Judaism to be in the same coalition with Lapid’s party.
MK Uri Ariel, leader of the Bayit Yehudi negotiation team, said his party would be willing to follow Yesh Atid’s plan for haredi enlistment, a position that seemingly alienates ultra-Orthodox parties.
Still, Ariel said: “We’re in touch with haredim and secular people, and hope to be a bridge between their views. We believe everyone should carry the burden [of service].”
The Bayit Yehudi MK added that he plans to meet with Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon, who composed Likud’s plan for haredi enlistment, on Tuesday.
The Bayit Yehudi showed it was ready to talk tough through the team standing behind Ariel, which consisted of Eyal Gabay, director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office during much of Netanyahu’s last term, and Eitan Haberman, a former Likud lawyer who was on the party’s coalition talks team in the past. In addition, campaign manager Moshe Klughaft and senior National Union liaison Natan Natanson took part in the negotiations.
The party also made a demand that it put in the previous coalition’s agreement – to have Sundays be a weekly vacation day, instead of Friday.
Later Sunday, the Shas leadership triumvirate of Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Arye Deri and Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias sent mixed messages, contradicting each other on their and Likud Beytenu’s willingness to be flexible on haredi enlistment.
Yishai played hard to get, saying he had no problem sitting in the opposition if it means preventing a “tear in the nation” or a “civil war” as a result of the coalition trying to force haredim to serve in the IDF.
“Lapid, stop trying to spread spin; the election is over,” Yishai said.
“Thousands of haredim serve in the army and civil service today and weren’t forced. Lapid is against the world of Torah and yeshiva students.”
Yishai also hinted at his recent and planned talks with senior religious- Zionist rabbis, in an attempt to convince the Bayit Yehudi to align themselves with the ultra-Orthodox instead of Yesh Atid.
Earlier this week, Lapid met with Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, and discussed the issue of equality in the burden of national service, among other topics.
Bennett could end up determining the makeup of the next coalition and its position on the haredi enlistment, if he forms a strong alliance with either of the sides on the issue.
The Bayit Yehudi is essentially the only party that isn’t talking about possibly sitting in the opposition, and could strengthen either Yesh Atid or Shas’s position.
“Soon enough, the Bayit Yehudi will see that they can’t live with Lapid’s stances [on haredi enlistment]. Their rabbis will oppose it,” Yishai warned.
The interior minister added: “Netanyahu wants Lapid more than Shas, even though he says he wants a wide coalition. In my opinion, their stances are very close on the topic [of haredi enlistment].”
Soon after, Deri said the exact opposite.“The prime minister seems to want us in the coalition very much,” he stated. “Still, there may be a big difference between good intentions and reality. There are big differences between us. It will be hard to sit in a coalition with Lapid, considering his views on enlistment.”
Deri also called for Lapid to meet with Shas leaders, adding that the Yesh Atid leader claims not to boycott anyone, but behaves otherwise.
Also Sunday, Netanyahu’s attorney Yitzhak Molcho left the Likud Beytenu’s negotiations team after Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein said he could not participate in coalition talks when he is the prime minister’s representative in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
On Monday, Likud Beytenu’s negotiating team will meet with United Torah Judaism, The Tzipi Livni Party and Kadima.
The Tzipi Livni Party’s negotiating team will include outgoing MK Yoel Hasson and Yossi Kucik, a former Prime Minister’s Office director-general.