The Likud party headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly reached separate coalition agreements with the center-right Kulanu party and the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) on Tuesday and was to sign the deals by Wednesday, as a deadline for forming a governing coalition quickly approached.
Netanyahu’s Likud is trying to put together a majority coalition that would also include Shas, Jewish Home and Yisrael Beytenu, for a total of 67 seats ion the 120-member Knesset.
The agreement with UTJ was slammed by centrist Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid as a “complete surrender” by Netanyahu to the demands of the ultra-Orthodox party.
Under the reported terms of the deal, Netanyahu agreed to a string of changes or repealing of legislation enacted just two years ago, during the last government. Many of the laws were put forward by Yesh Atid.
The cutback in child allowances to families based on the number of children they have and their annual family income that went into effect in August 2013, for example, was set to be annulled under the deal. The change was one of several key measures Lapid undertook as finance minister in the previous government as part of a wide-ranging plan to slash the budget and rein in a growing deficit.
The Likud also reportedly conceded on a controversial state conversion reform instituted just last year, by which a cabinet decision allowed the chief rabbis of Israel’s cities to establish conversion courts of their own, expanding the number of state conversion courts from four to as many as 30. The change was harshly criticized at the time by the ultra-Orthodox parties who wanted full control to remain with the State Rabbinate. The reform would have allowed prospective converts to choose their conversion court, leading to friendlier, more streamlined conversion procedures, and was hailed by the Jewish Home party and Yesh Atid.
Changes were also expected to be made to the universal draft law — a flagship Yesh Atid legislation aimed at gradually forcing the ultra-Orthodox community into mandatory military or national service — and an agreement to reduce funds for yeshivas, as well as the introduction of the core curriculum into ultra-Orthodox education.
Lapid accused Netanyahu of selling out the citizens of Israel by agreeing to UTJ’s demands on these changes.
“What we’re seeing today is a ‘fire-sale’ on what is important to Israeli society and at the expense of Israeli taxpayers. This is a complete surrender on the part of the prime minister to an anti-Zionist party at the expense of the tax-paying and IDF-serving public,” Lapid said.
Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon, as widely reported almost from the moment national elections results were made clear, will be the next finance minister, according to a draft agreement reached Tuesday. His party will also get the Construction and Housing Ministry and the Environmental Protection Ministry, as well as the directorship of the Israel Land Authority and the Planning Authority which will be separate from the Interior Ministry, and a party member will chair the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.
Kahlon reportedly did not commit to supporting key proposals advanced by the Likud that would restrict the powers of the Supreme Court, laws which Kahlon had in the past opposed outright.
The legislation which the Likud reportedly plans to advance includes a bill that would severely limit the Supreme Court’s ability to annul bills passed by the Knesset, as well as allow the plenum to re-legislate laws shot down by the court; and a bill that would change the makeup of the Judicial Selection Committee to give the government increased clout in the process.
A major stumbling block in coalition talks with the Likud’s other potential partners remains over the Religious Affairs Ministry, reportedly offered to the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party Shas, over the vociferous objections of Jewish Home and Yisrael Beytenu.
Jewish Home held the office in the outgoing government, but Netanyahu’s reported promise to now deliver the ministry to Aryeh Deri’s Shas has enraged Naftali Bennett.
According to an Israel Radio last week, the Likud has offered a compromise by which the religious affairs minister will be from Shas, while his deputy will be a Bennett appointee.
The prime minister is racing the clock in order establish a new government by the May 7 deadline. Under Israeli election rules, if Netanyahu fails to form a coalition by that date, President Reuven Rivlin can assign someone else the task of doing so.