Securing first partners, Likud inks coalition deals with Kulanu, UTJ
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Securing first partners, Likud inks coalition deals with Kulanu, UTJ

Kahlon’s faction to get raft of ministries; ultra-Orthodox party lands powerful Knesset Finance Committee and roll back of reforms

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with UTJ's Meir Porush in the Knesset, April 29, 2015 after the two parties signed a coalition agreement. To Netanyahu's right is UTJ leader Yaakov Litzman. (Courtesy Likud Party)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with UTJ's Meir Porush in the Knesset, April 29, 2015 after the two parties signed a coalition agreement. To Netanyahu's right is UTJ leader Yaakov Litzman. (Courtesy Likud Party)

The ruling Likud party clinched coalition deals with the bread-and-butter Kulanu party and ultra-Orthodox faction United Torah Judaism Wednesday, giving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his first partners as he races to form a government before a May 7 deadline.

Under the deal with UTJ, several major reforms drafted by the previous government, aimed at integrating the ultra-Orthodox community into Israeli society, will apparently be frozen, including aspects of legislation to phase Haredim into mandatory military or national service. There will, for instance, reportedly be no criminal penalty for non-conscription of yeshiva students.

Kulanu, headed by former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon, will be given control of the finance, environmental protection, and housing and construction portfolios, as well as the head of the Israel Land Administration, under its deal.

The addition of the parties brings Netanyahu’s emerging coalition up to 46 seats, meaning he requires only 15 more to form a government by the May 7 deadline.

Following the signing of the agreement, UTJ officials told Haaretz they hope to resume cooperation with Netanyahu, which they said was a partnership “full of achievements for all citizens of Israel, ” before they were left out of the previous government.

The party’s entrance into the government was conditioned on rolling back a number of reforms passed in the last government, many of which were championed by senior partner Yesh Atid.

These include cutbacks in child allowances to families based on the number of children they have and their annual family income, which went into effect in August 2013, and cuts to the state’s ultra-Orthodox educational system.

UTJ party head Yaakov Litzman will be handed the Health Ministry and appointed its deputy minister (party members do not assume top ministerial positions on ideological-religious grounds).

In addition, MK Meir Porush will be appointed deputy Education Minister.

MK Moshe Gafni will head the powerful Knesset Finance Committee, which was previously demanded by Kahlon during negotiations with Likud.

The party will also take hold of the Science and Space Committee.

Litzman told Haaretz that the Israeli health system is in need of a “shake up” and that he intends to “create an earthquake that will improve the conditions in the hospitals and HMOs.”

He also called on Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to take stock and “account for what he has done with the money he took away from [them].”

Party officials said a universal dental care plan for children up to the age of 14 was also included in the agreement, and will be expanded in the future to include anyone under 18, Haaretz reported.

Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after signing a coalition deal on April 29, 2015. (photo credit: courtesy of Likud party)
Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after signing a coalition deal on April 29, 2015. (photo credit: courtesy of Likud party)

Under the deal with Kulanu, Likud agreed to raise the salary of soldiers, give unemployment insurance to self-employed workers and set a biennial budget by October, Ynet reported.

Lapid slammed the deal with UTJ as a surrender by Netanyahu to the demands of the ultra-Orthodox party.

“The prime minister, who claims he stands at the head of a Zionist party, today sold the values of equality and jointly bearing the burden to a non-Zionist party,” Lapid said, referring to Netanyahu’s concession of striking down criminal penalties for draft dodgers.

“Netanyahu handed the cost to the public who serves and works, to those same soldiers and reservists who just last summer fiercely defended residents of the south,” Lapid said. “Yesh Atid won’t concede and will fight for this historic law.”

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 chairman Naftali Bennett celebrates with supporters, March 17, 2015. (Times of Israel/Avi Lewis)
Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett celebrates with supporters, March 17, 2015. (Times of Israel/Avi Lewis)

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.

On Wednesday Israel Radio reported that Netanyahu agreed to hand Bennett the Education Ministry, though he refuses to the demand to increase the office’s budget.

Under Israeli election rules, if Netanyahu fails to form a coalition by May 7, President Reuven Rivlin can assign someone else the task of doing so.

Ilan Ben Zion contributed to this report.

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