Lapid challenges Likud effort to break gov't pact

Likud Beytenu says Lapid has rejected possibility of coalition with haredim; Bayit Yehudi: Ties with Yesh Atid remain strong.

Yair Lapid 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Yair Lapid 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
In an apparent dig at Likud Beytenu's coalition-building strategy, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid on Friday questioned statements made by officials of the Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's party following a meeting between the two factions on Thursday.
In a continued effort to break the pact between Lapid and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett that they will only join the coalition together, Likud Beytenu officials said that Yesh Atid has made it clear that it sees no place for haredim in the next government and encouraged Bennett to join the government alone.
In a message of his Facebook wall, Lapid said that the two factions discussed in the meeting issues of housing, education, the costs of living and Israel's middle class. "In other words, we spoke of things that are not spins, that don't grab headlines and don't try to cause anger and hate," he asserted. "So why is it that all that came out of the meeting was a statement by Likud that we are rejecting the haredim," Lapid asked.
Bayit Yehudi top negotiator MK Uri Ariel emphasized on Friday that his party's bonds with Yesh Atid "are only getting stronger." Ariel made his comments at the start of a meeting with Likud-Beytenu. "Our position has not changed and we are not ruling out any party," he added.
Bayit Yehudi representatives also said that they find Likud-Beytenu's coalition agreement with Tzipi Livni's party Hatuna to be unacceptable.
Following the coalition talks with Yesh Atid at the Kfar Maccabiah hotel in Ramat Gan on Thursday, attorney David Shimron, head of the Likud Beytenu negotiating team, said they “discussed a lot of issues, and dedicated a large part of the meeting to clarifying Yesh Atid’s stance about haredi parties joining the government.”
According to Shimron, “the answer we got on this matter was that essentially, to Yesh Atid, there is no place for haredim in the next government.”
Following Likud Beyetnu's meeting with Bayit Yehudi on Friday, Shomron stressed that by sticking to its pact with Yesh Atid, Bennett's party is also rejecting the haredim. "We don't accept rejecting entire population groups," he stated, adding that his party would have to review how to deal with the issue is future negotiations.
Yesh Atid – as it has done since talks began last month – denied rejecting a government with haredim outright.
The party said, however, that it would stick to its principles, which include several problematic areas for Shas and United Torah Judaism, and expressed hope that the next government would reflect the will of the people and allow for a new political agenda.
Immediately after the talks ended, Likud Beytenu started aiming for a coalition with haredi parties and Bayit Yehudi, with MKs sending out messages meant to break the agreement between Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi.
Still, Bayit Yehudi insisted that its pact with Yesh Atid stood, but that it did not reject any parties, even those that called it “the house of gentiles,” as Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef did last month.
“We are glad that the Likud said in recent days that it decided to abandon its decision to form a left-wing haredi government without Bayit Yehudi,” a senior party source said, referring to Likud Beytenu’s attempts to court Labor.
“There is no doubt that our understandings with [Yesh Atid leader] Yair Lapid contributed to that outcome; therefore we will persevere.”
The Bayit Yehudi source said that in the next meeting with Likud Beytenu, the party planned to continue to demand a change in the “problematic” coalition agreement with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua Party, as well as agreements on economic issues.
“We will continue to work for the formation of a stable government that will represent the Israeli Right in the next four years,” the source added.
MK Ofir Akunis (Likud Beytenu), a close ally of Netanyahu, called for Bayit Yehudi not to make its entry to the coalition dependent on pushing the haredim away.
“I can’t imagine Bayit Yehudi preventing the formation of a nationalist government led by Likud, and endangering the interests of its voters,” he said.
Similarly, former coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud Beytenu) reminded Bayit Yehudi that the previous coalition without haredim, which included the National Religious Party (the predecessor of Bayit Yehudi), had voted for the disengagement from Gaza. He called for Bayit Yehudi to allow for a coalition consisting of 61 MKs in the “national camp” before trying to bring in Yesh Atid.
Fellow Likud Beytenu MK Yariv Levin suggested that Bayit Yehudi help find a compromise with the haredi parties that would allow the ultra-Orthodox to enlist in the IDF and integrate in society.
Earlier on Thursday, Likud Beytenu denied reports that it had given up on pulling Lapid and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett apart and that it planned to bring them into the government first, then ask the haredi parties to join as well.
“We are continuing efforts to form a broad coalition that will include the haredim, Bayit Yehudi, and we hope Yesh Atid and Kadima,” Shimron stated before talks with Yesh Atid.
Shimron added that a broad coalition was necessary for the entire public to be represented in democratic debates within the coalition, as the country faced internal and external challenges.
However, Shas rebuffed Likud Beytenu’s many overtures toward the haredim, canceling planned negotiations because recent meetings had been “empty of any content,” a Shas source explained.
On Thursday morning, before Likud Beytenu clarified its position, Interior Minister Eli Yishai posted a long, strongly worded Facebook status clarifying that Shas was not afraid of sitting in the opposition if its values were rejected.
“Despite Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s victory in the last election, some people are taking advantage of the rules of the game, ignoring the will of the voters, and trying to force their opinions and directions on others. That’s new politics,” he wrote, referring to one of Yesh Atid’s slogans.
Being in the coalition and having portfolios was not an end, but a means of serving the public, Yishai explained, saying that if necessary, going to the opposition was not shameful.
“Whoever wants to serve the public will do so no matter where he sits,” the Shas co-leader added.
Yishai accused Bennett and Lapid of attempting to paint Torah study as political, and said they lacked the maturity to show respect rather than push haredi parties away.
“It’s strange to me that those who demand that haredi society make major changes don’t understand that they should do it together and not behind their backs,” he wrote. “Shas will work to be part of the next coalition and continue protecting the Jewish nature of the state, but will not sell out its values, beliefs and principles to sit with people whose only common [interest] is a desire to harm the world of Torah.”
The Shas co-leader concluded by saying that his party would like to be part of the coalition, but would not hesitate to be a determined part of the opposition as long as the government stood – a reference to the reports that Netanyahu hoped to bring in haredi parties later.
“We won’t be second-rate citizens in Netanyahu’s government,” UTJ MK Yisrael Eichler told IBA News. “If we’re not in the government now, we’ll never be.”
Meanwhile on Thursday, Channel 10 reported that US President Barack Obama would cancel his trip to Israel this month if a coalition were not formed by March 16.