The Likud and Jewish Home parties looked poised to strike a deal that would enable the national-religious slate to enter Benjamin Netanyahu’s future coalition after concluding their third meeting in four days on Monday.
Representatives of both parties claimed they were nearing an agreement on the thorniest issue dominating coalition talks, the universal draft legislation, under which the sides would agree to enlist ultra-Orthodox men into military or national service at the age of 21. The Likud’s conscription plan originally set the age of enlistment at 24, while the Jewish Home had backed its ally Yesh Atid’s plan, which set the age of enlistment at 18, the same as for the general population.
According to sources quoted in Maariv, Jewish Home also speaks for Yesh Atid on the matter.
Both Jewish Home and Yesh Atid were opposed to the higher age requirement originally proposed by the Likud, reasoning that enlisting soldiers at such an age would mean they wouldn’t be eligible for combat units, their cost to the army would be substantially higher, and they would only serve two years as opposed to the mandatory three for others.
If this issue has indeed now been resolved, the next likely sticking point will be mediating between the Likud’s plan to install rather noncommittal “enlistment targets,” versus Yesh Atid’s call for strict quotas for the enlistment of Yeshiva students.
“Recent talks have been positive,” a source from the Jewish Home told Maariv Monday night. “We are receiving indications from Likud that they are no longer trying to break up our alliance with [Yesh Atid leader Yair] Lapid and are instead attempting to work with it.”
On Sunday, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett charged that his party’s alliance with Yesh Atid emerged as a result of the Likud-Beytenu efforts to keep him out of the coalition.
“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 charge that Bennett has abandoned the party’s religious nationalist principles and risked blocking the creation of a right-wing government.
Members of the Likud-Beytenu’s negotiating team said they were already conducting coalition talks as if Jewish Home and Yesh Atid were a single body.
A further indication that the talks between Likud and Jewish Home were on track was the Likud’s reported notice to the religious Shas party that it would not retain control of the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Housing. Shas commanded both of the powerful ministries in the outgoing Cabinet, but the Likud is reportedly interested in keeping one or both of the portfolios for itself.
So far the only party to join Netanyahu’s coalition aside from Yisrael Beytenu — which ran together with the Likud on the same list in the January 22 election — is Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua. The centrist party signed a coalition agreement, giving it control of the Justice and Environmental Protection ministries, last week.
If Netanyahu is unable to sign coalition agreements with other parties before the end of the week, he will have to go to President Shimon Peres and ask him for a two-week extension on Saturday night. In the unlikely event that he or other party heads prove incapable of forming a coalition, Israelis will once again be asked to cast their votes in general elections.