Netanyahu begins talks for haredi-free government

Shas: Bennett-Lapid bond hating haredim too strong for PM to break; rabbis support Bayit Yehudi-Yesh Atid alliance.

Lapid Netanyahu at Knesset swear in 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Lapid Netanyahu at Knesset swear in 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu began working on a coalition without haredi parties on Sunday, breaking the news to Shas and then negotiating with Bayit Yehudi.
One day after Netanyahu accused Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi of boycotting an entire population group, which he said was unacceptable, he admitted to Shas the unlikelihood of forming a coalition with the haredi parties.
The Shas leadership triumvirate – former interior minister Arye Deri, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias – told the prime minister on Sunday afternoon that their entry into the government was still in his hands. They urged him to reach out to Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich to bring her party into the coalition, thereby enabling Shas to join as well.
The impression the Shas leaders have received, a party source said, is that the pact between Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid is too strong to break and that the only way into government for them would be if Labor (15 Knesset seats) joined, in which case Netanyahu would not need Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi’s collective 31 Knesset seats.
Yacimovich, however, has not wavered from her campaign promise to remain in the opposition, even when Likud Beytenu offered her party the Finance; Industry, Trade and Labor; and Social Services ministries. According to the Labor leader, her views are too different from those of Netanyahu.
“It seems that the bond between Lapid and Bennett and their hatred for the haredim is unbreakable at this stage,” the Shas party official said.
Shas also rejected a suggestion the prime minister made earlier in negotiations, that the party join the government at a later stage, after the government was already formed. The party pointed out that it would not want to join a coalition after Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi passed a haredi enlistment law, housing reform or budget cuts, which Shas and United Torah Judaism believe would hurt haredi interests.
The same source threatened that the haredi public and political leadership “would long remember the behavior of the national-religious party [Bayit Yehudi] after these elections.
“When the haredim are once again in government and the national-religious are not, they will see our response to what they have done,” the official warned.
He added that they would not cynically support antisettlement activity, such as evacuations or construction freezes, as revenge, referring to the generally right-wing attitude of the haredi public on such matters.
Soon after his meeting with Shas, Netanyahu sat with Bennett, in a meeting the Bayit Yehudi spokesman described as “good and practical.”
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman participated in part of the meeting, which focused on a timeline for passing a haredi enlistment bill and budgetary issues.
Bayit Yehudi chief negotiator MK Uri Ariel said the party suggested that “coalition funds,” state spending that is given to sectors represented by parties in the coalition, be canceled and that the 2013-14 budget be declared a national emergency budget. The “coalition funds” in the previous government reached close to NIS 1 billion annually.
“We constantly said that Bayit Yehudi is no longer a sectorial party, but is concerned with all of the people of Israel, which is why I think we must recommend as part of coalition demands that the funds be canceled,” Ariel said. “We promised to behave responsibly, and we will keep that promise.”
What may have foiled Netanyahu’s hopes to break the Yesh Atid-Bayit Yehudi alliance and bring the latter into a government with Shas and UTJ was a letter from the rabbis behind Tekuma, a farright faction that makes up one-third of Bayit Yehudi, saying they support the alliance.
Netanyahu’s close associate Natan Eshel was said to have attempted to convince the Tekuma rabbis that they should align themselves with the haredim, and not a secularist party.
“Despite all of the hysteria in the media, we strengthen the path you are on to preserving the world of Torah and settlement in the Land of Israel, in cooperation with Yair Lapid and the Yesh Atid party,” rabbis Dov Lior, Haim Steiner, Isser Klonsky and David Chai Hacohen wrote in a letter to Bennett and Ariel.
Earlier on Sunday, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz expressed discomfort at the idea of leaving haredi parties out of the coalition.
“The prime minister has doubts about rejecting an entire public,” Steinitz said.
“This is an undesirable reality.
Israel needs the widest, most stable government possible. I don’t like the style of boycotting or indirectly boycotting.”
Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau expressed optimism at the prospect of a coalition that can focus on civil and domestic issues, but disapproved of Yesh Atid and the Bayit Yehudi’s methods.
“We have a chance to bring great changes in allowing everyone to participate in the workforce, enlistment in the army, affordable housing, electoral reform,” he listed. “I call on anyone who believes in these principles – like Bennett and Lapid – not to let us miss this chance again. We need to make sure all of these principles come true, but not through boycotts.” •