As coalition talks with Likud-Beytenu remain stalled, and shortly after Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party inked a deal to join the government, the Jewish Home faction has begun preparing for new elections
A number of Jewish Home party leaders held a meeting on Wednesday night to begin planning a fresh election campaign in the event that efforts to form a government fail, Maariv reported on Thursday. In addition to the meeting, the party also contacted businessman Sefi Shaked, who played an important part in the party’s campaign for the January election that won it 12 Knesset seats.
Earlier Wednesday, during a party conference in Jerusalem, the Jewish Home made it clear that an alliance formed with the Yesh Atid party, according to which both parties would either join the government together or join the opposition, remains firm.
“The pact with Lapid is iron-clad,” party sources said. “We would rather have new elections than join the government without him.”
At the conference, Jewish Home leader Naftai Bennett expressed his objections to Livni’s joining the government as justice minister and the government member in charge of negotiations with the Palestinians.
“Will we maintain the land of Israel with Jerusalem as the capital or will we place the negotiations in the hands of someone who has already offered to divide Jerusalem and give up Ariel?” he asked rhetorically.
Likud members countered that despite his statements, Bennett is in fact close to joining the government.
“Naftali Bennett will not act to bring down the government, because it is completely against the ideology of the Jewish Home voters,” MK Tzachi Hanegbi told Army Radio Thursday. Hanegbi said that with Hatnua on board, Likud-Beytenu is now hoping to bring Labor and Yesh Atid into the government too. “However, at the same time, because we don’t want a narrow government, we must also bring in the smaller parties like Jewish Home and Shas.”
As speculation on Jewish Home’s prospects continues to swirl, conflicting reports surround the intentions of the ultra-Orthodox parties as well.
Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman from the United Torah Judaism party denied reports that fellow ultra-Orthodox party Shas is about to sign a coalition agreement.
“We are 100 percent coordinated with Shas and I don’t know of any progress,” Litzman told Army Radio. “They haven’t spoken to us, the Ashkenazi Haredi party, for two weeks and the best they offered us was a glass of water.”
On Tuesday Channel 10 reported that Shas officials said they expected to reach an agreement on the universal draft and join the coalition within a few days.
Both Jewish Home and Yesh Atid have made universal national draft, with conscripts drawn as well from the ultra-Orthodox community, a must-have condition for them to join the coalition. The ultra-Orthodox parties oppose the idea strenuously and attempts at a compromise have so far failed.
Shas officials said the party would likely agree to a proposal put together by Eugene Kandel, the head of Israel’s National Economic Council, according to which the IDF would draft upwards of 60 percent of ultra-Orthodox Israelis aged 18-24 within five years, and the government would provide monetary incentives to those who comply while penalizing the yeshivas of those who don’t.
The Yesh Atid and Jewish Home parties rejected the Kandel proposal when Netanyahu’s team pitched it in coalition talks last week.
“It seems as though Netanyahu has opted for the tactic of bringing the Haredi parties in first,” said Jewish Home’s Ayelet Shaked. “I don’t know what will happen — if we will be in the opposition — or, new elections is also an option. We would like to be in the Netanyahu government; we are his natural partners, but we are prepared for every eventuality, even elections.”
Things also looked shaky on the centrist front, with Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz saying following a two-hour meeting with Netanyahu on Wednesday that his party’s joining the coalition was not a sure thing. “I am closer to the Lapid-Bennett axis than I am to joining the government,” Mofaz said according to his associates. He also denied that he was offered a Cabinet portfolio, adding that the reports that he was next to join the coalition were “spin” created by Netanyahu’s people.
Mofaz said the Kandel proposal was meant to placate the Haredim and did not provide a suitable solution to the problem.