Monday morning, hours before the new government was to be sworn in, party leaders met with their Knesset factions, with some of them briefly toning down their hostility to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership during the last month of coalition negotiations.
In the Knesset debate that followed, by contrast, MK after MK rose from the opposition benches to pour scorn and criticism on the new coalition, with ultra-Orthodox Knesset members particularly aggrieved.
Jewish Home party head Naftali Bennett began his party meeting by thanking Netanyahu, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid — whom he joined up with in coalition talks — and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, pointing out that “the elections campaign is behind us and we now stand behind Netanyahu. We will act to help the new government succeed.”
The words were a seeming about-face from the harsh rhetoric between Netanyahu and Bennett during coalition negotiations. Bennett, at one time Netanyahu’s chief of staff, had a falling out with the prime minister in the past, though he ran on a platform of standing with the Likud leader.
Netanyahu only managed to cobble together a coalition at the last moment, after several weeks of bitter negotiations with potential coalition partners. In the end, Netanyahu got 68 MKs to join his Likud party, from the Yisrael Beytenu, Hatnua, Yesh Atid and Jewish Home parties.
Hatnua party leader Tzipi Livni said she planned to take her job as chief negotiator with the Palestinians seriously, barely paying lip service to her official role as justice minister.
“I intend to hit the ground running on the diplomatic process. It is going to be difficult and very complicated but it is my duty to fight for it,” she said, adding that she hoped the visit of US President Barack Obama would open the door for a new chapter in Israeli-US relations.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who made pushing Haredi parties out of the coalition a precondition for joining the government, said he was not against the religious public.
“We will not harm the Haredi public. We are not anti-Haredi. The Haredi public needs to know that our doors will always be open to it, it is our duty to help them,and whoever is trying to say that we will take advantage of the situation to exclude the Haredim or discriminate against them is wrong and misleading, and is creating a discourse of hatred and fear that we must confront,” Lapid said.
Shas head Eli Yishai, from the unfamiliar pespective of the opposition, said that Lapid could not expect to simply erase his reputation of boycotting ultra-Orthodox politicians.
“The Knesset is not a personal column in a newspaper and I intend to remind him every day and every hour of the rift he created by excluding a whole sector of society,” Yishai said in the Shas meeting. Speaking to the Knesset later in the day, he quipped that Lapid would take care of Haredim like MK Ahmed Tibi, from the Arab Ra’am-Ta’al faction, would take care of settlers.
Shas co-leader Aryeh Deri added that this government does not represent the weaker sectors of Israeli society, representing only ‘the center.” “Only two ministers live in the periphery, three ministers are of Mizrahi origin and none [of those] hold senior positions.”
Opposition leader and Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich wished the new government luck, but noted bitterly: “This is an unrestrained, capitalistic government. It will not lead us to a diplomatic breakthrough or to any sort of relief.”
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