Deal over Shabbat coalition crisis is close, but still not finalized

Efforts to reach an agreement are expected to recommence on Friday morning.

November 24, 2017 05:28
2 minute read.
Israel train

An Israel Railways train passes through Ein Yael in Jerusalem. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Despite intense efforts to resolve the simmering coalition crisis over railway maintenance work on Shabbat, an arrangement satisfying the demands of United Torah Judaism as well as the requirements of Israel Railways was still yet to be finalized as Thursday night's discussions were brought to a close.

Efforts to reach an agreement are expected to recommence on Friday morning.

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But threats from UTJ to topple the government over the haredi party’s objection to railway maintenance on the Sabbath have nonetheless borne fruit, with a deal expected to be worked out between the Welfare and Labor Ministry, Israel Railways and UTJ before this coming Shabbat.

Already by Thursday afternoon, Israel Railways announced that the Dimona-Beersheba line will close from five o’clock Friday morning to five o’clock Sunday morning due to the need to upgrade and replace the railway lines, and emphasized that the work would not take place on Shabbat.

Last Shabbat, maintenance work was carried out on the line but, due to an agreement with UTJ, was carried out by non-Jews – although Jewish employees of Israel Railways were reportedly involved in maintenance work on lines in Tel Aviv.

On Wednesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a meeting with UTJ chairman and Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, who has led the haredi effort to stop maintenance work on Shabbat, along with UTJ MK Moshe Gafni, and Labor and Social Welfare Minister Haim Katz, and told the latter to find a solution.

And on Thursday, Ynet reported that officials from the Labor and Social Welfare Ministry, which has authority over what work can be carried on Shabbat, were liaising with Israel Railway officials in order to drastically reduce the amount of maintenance that must be done for safety purpose this Shabbat.

Israel Railways is also being asked to formulate plans to significantly reduce the amount of maintenance conducted on Shabbat in the future according to the report.

“We will not agree to stop the work on the railways as Minister Ya’acov Litzman demands,” he told Channel 12’s Morning News on Thursday.

“We will try and find a compromise but it could turn into a real crisis. The coalition cannot be managed like this. The haredim received a lot in this government, we will not stand silently every time there is a problem. We will find a solution but it won’t happen overnight.”

But Litzman repeated his threats to resign as health minister Thursday morning if maintenance work is carried out on Shabbat, which his party deems could be done at another time.

“I’m going till the end with Shabbat. If there will be a desecration of Shabbat then I’ll resign,” said the minister.

He said, however, that he did not want to topple the government and have new elections, but insisted that preserving the status-quo on Shabbat was part of UTJ’s coalition agreement and had to be upheld.

On Wednesday, Israel Railways said that, unlike last week when a similar crisis was averted by using non-Jewish workers, this weekend more than 100 engineers and technicians who are Jewish are essential.

Officials from the railway company said if the work is not done on Shabbat, trains would have to be shut down for a full day during the week, harming the commute of thousands of people.

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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