As Jewish Home and Likud-Beytenu representatives met again on possible coalition terms Sunday night, Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett charged that his party’s alliance with Yesh Atid emerged as a result of the Likud-Beytenu efforts to keep it out of the coalition.
The Jewish Home and Likud-Beytenu teams, who last met in a reported “good atmosphere” on Friday, renewed their dialogue Sunday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, entering the fourth week of coalition talks, struggled to build a majority government. His task has been complicated by a thus-far robust decision by Jewish Home and Yesh Atid to together stay out of the coalition unless Netanyahu commits to radical reform enabling the conscription of most ultra-Orthodox young males — legislation that is anathema to Netanyahu’s potential ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.
“Without this coordination [with Yesh Atid], the government would consist of Likud, Hatnua, Kadima, Shas, and Yesh Atid — without the religious Zionist movement, without the Jewish Home,” Bennett wrote on his Facebook page. “This government’s racing along [Hatnua head Tzipi] Livni’s political line — giving up on Jerusalem, giving up on [the West Bank city of] Ariel, and being obsessed with the PLO. That’s a fact.”
Bennett, whose party won 12 seats in the elections, has come under fire from some of his party’s members over the past few days for hitching his wagon to Yesh Atid head, Yair Lapid. Some Jewish Home faithful charged that Bennett has abandoned the party’s religious nationalist principles and risked blocking the creation of a right-wing government.
Bennett said joining up with Yesh Atid, which won 19 seats, had changed the course of coalition negotiations, adding that the union sought to bring attention to “social issues, internal economic affairs — like lowering the cost of living, of housing, and of education — and strengthening Jewish identity and boosting the Negev and Galilee [periphery] regions, rather than obsessing over peace talks” with Palestinian leaders.
He also acknowledged differences between the two party’s leaders. He and Lapid, he said, “have a lot of commonalities, but there are also points of disagreement. We will focus on implementing our shared values, which are quite broad. And we will continue to argue about other things,” Bennett added. “We won’t deviate from our principles. The public will judge us over the next four years.”
A Likud statement responded to Bennett’s comments by claiming it was Jewish Home that prevented the establishment of a government with a national camp majority.
“The Jewish Home was the first to receive an offer to join the government led by Benjamin Netanyahu. The only thing that prevents the establishment of a government with a right-wing [nationalist] majority is its refusal to join. Netanyahu calls for the establishment of a government with a right-wing majority and invites Yesh Atid to join the coalition as well,” the statement read.
Jewish Home was believed to be the last party to be approached by the negotiating teams, and Bennett was the final party leader to meet with Netanyahu.
Earlier Sunday, Zeev Elkin, head of the Likud team on coalition negotiations, told Israel Radio that there was no concerted effort by the Likud to keep Jewish Home out of the coalition. He echoed the sentiments of the Likud statement and claimed that Netanyahu had offered Jewish Home the first opportunity to join the coalition, but that Bennett hadn’t accepted the offer.
Elkin also said that the fact that Netanyahu hosted Bennett for coalition talks near the Kiriya (Ministry of Defense headquarters) in Tel Aviv — deemed by the media to be a cold greeting for Bennett, a former aide to the prime minister — was not an affront, but rather a dictate of the circumstances in which Netanyahu finds himself daily, i.e., dealing with national security in the area.
Bennett formerly served as Netanyahu’s chief-of-staff, before a reported falling out. The prime minister, and his wife Sara, have been widely reported to want to keep Bennett out of the coalition.