The Jewish Home and Yesh Atid parties have entered into a strategic alliance and notified Likud-Beytenu coalition negotiators that the two parties will either enter the government together or retire to the opposition.
Both parties are intent on legislating the conscription of ultra-Orthodox Israelis into military or national service, a move rejected by the ultra-Orthodox parties, making coalition talks extremely challenging for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In response to the alliance, reported by the Hebrew media Sunday, a senior Likud source involved in the coalition negotiations accused the national-religious Jewish Home party of “voter fraud,” for forming an agreement with Yesh Atid instead of allying with Likud-Beytenu, as it had promised it would in its elections campaign.
“During the campaign, [Jewish Home leader] Naftali Bennett promised his voters that he supported Benjamin Netanyahu, and even put his picture alongside a photo of the prime minister on billboards to highlight the level of cooperation he planned after the election,” the Likud source told Israel Hayom. “But immediately after the elections, Bennett entered an alliance with [Yesh Atid head] Yair Lapid.”
The source said Bennett’s move amounts to “voter fraud. Using his agreement with Lapid, Bennett is working to prevent the establishment of a nationalist government.”
Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud) called the Bennett-Lapid union a “strange alliance” that does not represent the election results. Speaking to Channel 2 on Saturday night, Ya’alon said that “voters believed the Jewish Home when it said it would strengthen the prime minister from the right, but this alliance does not reflect that.”
Ya’alon further warned: “If Bennett and Lapid continue to play at this game, this [as yet unformed] government will be a very short-lived one as someone will be sure to bring it down.”
Bennett and Netanyahu have a contentious relationship despite having worked closely together in the past. Bennett served as Netanyahu’s bureau chief 2006-2008, while the latter was head of the opposition, before leaving under strained circumstances. When coalition talks officially began after the January 22 elections, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid was the first party called in for talks with Netanyahu, while the Jewish Home was called last, even after left-wing parties like Meretz and the Arab lists.
The centrist Yesh Atid won 19 Knesset seats in the elections and together with Jewish Home’s 12, they match Likud-Beytenu’s 31.
“The ball is in his [Netanyahu’s] court,” said Yesh Atid’s number 2 Shai Piron. He must reach a decision. After that we will see whether we are loyal partners in a long-lasting coalition, or we are headed to lead the opposition.”
On Friday, Netanyahu met with Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich in a renewed effort to convince her to join the coalition and in that way weaken Lapid and Bennett’s bargaining positions. According to some sources, Netanyahu was even considering “luring Yachimovich in by offering her the Finance Ministry portfolio, which is dear to her heart.” After the meeting, Yachimovich said that while her chat with Netanyahu was positive, the disparity between their respective views prevented Labor from joining a Netanyahu-led coalition.
Last week, the Jewish Home party rejected an offer of senior ministerial posts in return for a pledge to “immediately” join a Likud-led coalition, saying it couldn’t make any such commitment before the government’s policy outlines were hammered out.