Significant progress in UTJ, Likud talks

Party's support would give Likud 50-28 advantage over Kadima in recommendations to Peres.

Litzman 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Litzman 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The United Torah Judaism Knesset faction will convene on Wednesday to decide whether to recommend to President Shimon Peres that Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu form a coalition, after UTJ officials reported significant progress in a meeting with a Likud lawyer on Tuesday morning. With UTJ's endorsement, Likud will have the support of 50 MKs going into its meeting with Peres on Wednesday night, ahead of the president's decision on whom to entrust with forming the next government. Kadima, by contrast, only has the support of its own 28 MKs, after both Labor and Meretz announced Monday that they would not support Kadima leader Tzipi Livni because she is seeking a coalition with Israel Beiteinu. "There is a lot of progress with the Likud on a coalition agreement," a UTJ official said. Likud officials could not confirm such progress and admitted that if Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman insisted on changes in the status quo on religion and state, any understandings with UTJ could be "thrown out the window." UTJ opposes Lieberman's central demand of recognizing civil unions in lieu of marriage through a religious ceremony. UTJ officials said their rabbis would not instruct them about what to do on the matter unless Likud signed a coalition deal with Israel Beiteinu that called for civil unions. In a prospective coalition deal, UTJ is expected to be given the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee and a deputy ministership. It was not clear yet whether their deputy minister would serve under a minister from another party or whether he would control a ministry from the deputy minister's seat, as the party has in the past. UTJ's top priority in the coalition talks will be to alleviate the shortage of haredi housing. The faction is a strong supporter of Netanyahu's plans for reforming the Israel Lands Administration. The rebbe of the Belz Hassidim hosted the five UTJ MKs for what was described as a "unity festival" on Monday night. They also met on Tuesday to plan strategy for further talks with Likud. They decided a united front was needed, despite deep divisions between Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael, the two factions that make up United Torah Judaism, and the rifts inside Aguda. "We don't have time for disputes," a UTJ source said. "We are united and we will work together for the benefit of the entire population."