PM meets with Shas amid stalled coalition talks

Feuding over finance panel, Education Ministry fuels discord; agreement reached to raise electoral threshold to 4%.

Heads of party lists for 19th Knesset 370 (photo credit: Knesset spokesperson)
Heads of party lists for 19th Knesset 370
(photo credit: Knesset spokesperson)
Coalition talks between Likud Beytenu and Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi remained at a near-standstill Tuesday, meaning that the government will most likely be sworn in next week. Amid the growing hurdles to form the government Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with joint chief of Shas MK and Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Tuesday night. 
Likud Beytenu’s hopes of signing an agreement with Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi by Tuesday, presenting his choices to President Shimon Peres Wednesday and then having the government sworn in on Thursday following the legally mandated 24-hour waiting period, were dashed. Netanyahu’s deadline to form a coalition is Saturday night.
A new bone of contention arose between the parties – the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee – and this time, Bayit Yehudi joined in the wrangling.
In a clear sign of strife between former allies, Bayit Yehudi made public its demand for the powerful committee – which carries the political cache of a ministry – citing the fact that Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid had received the Finance portfolio that Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett coveted, and that Bayit Yehudi had gone down from four to three ministries due to Yesh Atid’s demands for a smaller government.
Sources in Bennett’s party have expressed frustration over having made concessions to help Yesh Atid achieve many of its objectives in coalition talks, while the latter has not done the same for them.
“In order to keep our promises for economic reforms and break apart market concentration, we must have the ability to take down the barriers in the way, and the Finance Committee is the tool for that,” a senior Bayit Yehudi source explained, adding that the party had requested chairmanship of the Knesset panel several days ago.
Bayit Yehudi wants MK Nissan Slomiansky to hold the chairman post, but Likud Beytenu hopes to give it to its own MK Faina Kirschenbaum, and Yesh Atid would put MK Ofer Shelah in the post.
On Tuesday night, perhaps in recognition of the growing cracks between Bayit Yehudi and Yesh Atid the PM meet with joint chief of Shas MK and Interior Minister Eli Yishai. The Shas lawmaker on Wednesday morning commented on the coalition negotiation process, which he has been largely excluded from up to this point saying, "My heart goes out to the prime minister who is expected in the coming years to be prisoner to the whims of Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi."
Another hitch in coalition talks is the number of ministries Hatnua would get. Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni and Likud Beytenu want to leave it at two, as agreed upon in the parties’ coalition deal. However, Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi’s portfolios go according to a ministerial index of one per every four MKs, and they are demanding that the six-MK Hatnua follow the same proportion.
Meanwhile, the clash between Likud Beytenu and Yesh Atid over the Education portfolio – with the former insisting that current Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar stay in the post and the latter wanting it to go to its own MK Shai Piron – continued. Another option would be for Sa’ar to become interior minister, but Yesh Atid has demanded to hold both disputed portfolios.
Also Tuesday, a halachic responsum that Piron – a former rabbi at the Petah Tikva Hesder Yeshiva – issued during the second intifada came to light, saying that Jewish people should not rent homes to Arabs. Sources in Yesh Atid accused the Likud of searching for “dirt” on Piron to deter the party from holding on to the Education portfolio.
Still, the parties managed to reach agreements on issues not related to portfolios.
Likud Beytenu has accepted Yesh Atid’s demands for electoral reform, including constructive no-confidence votes, which would require votes from 70 MKs in order to pass, as well as an agreed-upon candidate to replace the prime minister.
In addition, the election threshold will be raised to 4 percent, meaning that parties would need five seats to get into the Knesset.
Such a change could put Arab parties in danger of being left out of the next Knesset, along with other small parties like Meretz, United Torah Judaism, Hatnua, Kadima and Bayit Yehudi, some of which had three or four seats in the last Knesset.
The parties also agreed last week to pass a law that would not allow governments to have more than 18 ministers.
Yesh Atid and Likud Beytenu gave mixed messages as to whether they agreed on an outline for haredi army enlistment.
A senior Likud Beytenu source said the sides had reached an agreement, but would not confirm details.
Yesh Atid, in contrast, listed its demands – compromises based on the party platform – but said Likud Beytenu had not yet agreed to them.
The apparent outline would include exemptions from service for 1,800 Torah study prodigies, enlistment at age 21, and economic sanctions on yeshivot that discouraged students from serving, as opposed to individuals who chose to dodge the draft.
In accordance with Yesh Atid’s plan, the changes would be implemented in five years, during which time the ultra- Orthodox would be exempt from IDF service and allowed to find employment regardless of whether they were full-time yeshiva students.