With government's fate uncertain, Netanyahu seeks commitment from haredim for next coalition

Sources close to PM say he has not ruled out maintaining his current coalition if he receives firm commitments for greater discipline.

Netanyahu at cabinet meeting (photo credit: REUTERS)
Netanyahu at cabinet meeting
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been seeking commitments from the ultra-Orthodox parties that could decide the future of his governing coalition by the end of the week, sources in Shas and United Torah Judaism said on Wednesday.
The sources confirmed a Channel 2 report that the prime minister had asked them to commit to support him forming the next government after a general election. While in the past he sought a public commitment, he would now settle for a private promise.
Shas chairman Arye Deri has told Netanyahu’s associates that he will respond by Friday after speaking to his party’s rabbis. UTJ is playing harder to get with the prime minister’s emissaries, Transportation Minister Israel Katz and coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin.
“I have been in the opposition for two years, representing a sector that keeps being harmed by the prime minister and his coalition partners, so I don’t have to come when I’m summoned,” UTJ MK Moshe Gafni told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday night.
Netanyahu received such commitments from Shas and UTJ after prime minister Ehud Olmert resigned in 2008. The parties prevented then-Kadima head Tzipi Livni from forming a government, which led to the 2009 election that Netanyahu won.
Sources close to Netanyahu said he has not ruled out maintaining his current coalition if he receives firm commitments for greater discipline.
He is concerned that parties in the coalition and opposition could unite to form an alternative government in the current Knesset, even though chances of that happening are very low.
A statement by the prime minister at the Knesset on Wednesday that he would advance his own version of the controversial “Jewish state” bill and not more extreme versions raised hope in Yesh Atid that compromises could be reached. But sources close to Netanyahu said they were not aware of progress toward an accommodation.
At a special Knesset session with Netanyahu forced by an opposition parliamentary maneuver, the prime minister defended the “Jewish state” bill, saying that its wording was no different than that of the 1917 Balfour Declaration. He said it was necessary to have a law that would differentiate between the human rights of all citizens and the national rights that belong to the Jewish people in Israel.
“There has been an effort to undermine Israel’s status as a Jewish state,” Netanyahu said. “Those who can’t see it are ignoring reality. I understand why Hamas opposes the ‘Jewish state’ bill, but I don’t understand why some of my dearest friends are against it.”
The latter statement was seen as a swipe against President Reuven Rivlin, who came out strongly against the bill on Tuesday night.
Netanyahu said the legislation was essential in order to prevent an influx of Palestinian refugees or migrant workers into Israel. It would also end thoughts of autonomy for Israeli Arabs in the Galilee and Beduin in the Negev, he said.
Turning to the diplomatic front, Netanyahu continued his rightward shift, criticizing the possibility of giving up land in Judea and Samaria.
“People tell me to withdraw from territory, and jump from the cliff and I will find a soft bed of roses,” he said. “But I say, no, I’ll find ISIS,” i.e. Islamic State.
Netanyahu slammed the parties on the Left for demanding a withdrawal from West Bank land. He said that in their view, if he did not withdraw, he has not accomplished anything, no matter how many achievements his government has made.
“I didn’t withdraw, but I did and I will continue to reach accomplishments for Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people,” he said.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog responded that Netanyahu did withdraw from (80 percent of) Hebron (in 1997), he voted for withdrawing from the Gaza Strip (in 2005) and he withdrew from the refrigerators and the wallets of the poor.
Herzog declared Netanyahu a failure because Iran has become a nuclear threshold state, Hamas has been strengthened, the cost of living is up and there has been a rise in support for a Palestinian state around the world.
“We in Labor represent the Declaration of Independence, you the ‘Jewish state’ bill,” Herzog said. “Mr. Prime Minister, you must go. We will replace you and give people hope.”