Lapid and Bennett say coalition talks languishing

Jewish Home and Yesh Atid factions reiterate they won’t give in to Likud pressure to relinquish key policy demands

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, left, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett at the opening session of the Knesset in January, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, left, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett at the opening session of the Knesset in January, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The leaders of two key parties involved in coalition negotiations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Yisrael Beytenu party on Monday lambasted the status of coalition talks, which they said had featured no meaningful exchanges in days.

“For a week there have not been any significant negotiations,” Jewish Home party chairman Naftali Bennett said at the start of a faction meeting on Monday. “We are interested in joining the government, and as soon as they decide to hold [serious] coalition talks, a government can be finalized in 24 hours.”

Yair Lapid, the head of the Yesh Atid party, which has partnered with Jewish Home on several key policy issues in negotiations with Likud-Beytenu, expressed similar sentiments during his own faction’s meeting.

“It is the weekly meeting during which I report that nothing has happened,” he said.

Lapid went on to joke about what has become the major stumbling block for Likud-Beytenu in closing a coalition deal — that Yesh Atid and Jewish Home insist on sticking to their pre-election platforms, notably on the imperative to conscript ultra-Orthodox males.

“I understand that they say about us now — that we have no experience and we don’t understand politics,” Lapid said. “I just want to say that it is quite true: We don’t have any experience and we don’t understand politics and that’s the reason that we have no choice but to stick to our values and principles.”

Lapid reiterated his demand, seconded by Bennett, that Netanyahu lay down clear guidelines for the next government’s policies and principles.

“It is worthwhile to recall that the question facing Netanyahu is not which [cabinet] portfolio he wants to give to which partner,” Lapid said. “Rather, it is in which direction he wants to take the State of Israel, and which principles he wants the next government to have. I want him to work according to that method, because if he does, the question of which government to form will be very clear and simple.”

Coalition talks have reached a standoff with Jewish Home and Yesh Atid forming an alliance pledging to either both join the government together or both serve in the opposition. The two parties are demanding a commitment to legislate for universal national service, including the ultra-Orthodox communities. However, Netanyahu is straining to keep the ultra-Orthodox parties, his natural coalition partners, in the government — despite their vehement opposition to the national draft.

According to Likud sources quoted by Maariv on Monday, Netanyahu would rather go to a second round of elections than give in to the Lapid-Bennett demands.

The leader of the left-wing Labor Party, Shelly Yachimovich, on Monday denied media reports that she was close to signing a coalition agreement with Likud-Beytenu, a move that she described as being a “honey trap.”

“In the past we have seen Netanyahu’s antics and we all know how low it brought us,” she said at her faction’s meeting.

Yachimovich said she will always agree to meet with Netanyahu but that the ideological differences between them remain too vast to reach an agreement. Before the January elections, Yachimovich vowed that Labor would not join a Likud-led government and she has maintained that stance despite opposition from within her own party.

Speaking in the Knesset on Monday, Shas’s Eli Yishai suggested, laughing, that Netanyahu might ultimately have to go back to President Shimon Peres, who charged him with forming a coalition on February 2 — and gave him 28 days to do so — and announce, “I couldn’t do it.”

Precedent shows, however, that coalition talks usually go down to the wire. After 28 days, Netanyahu can request an extension of 14 more days.

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