Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party is reportedly working with its ultra-Orthodox partners on a new draft of a bill regulating the conscription of yeshiva students in a bid to entice Avigdor Liberman to join the next government.
Liberman, whose Yisrael Beytenu party’s five seats are needed for Netanyahu to form a ruling majority of right-wing and religious factions, has said he will only hold coalition talks if Likud agrees to his policy demands. One of those demands is for Likud to support the current version of the Defense Ministry-backed bill on ultra-Orthodox military enlistment.
That bill, which was drawn up during Liberman’s tenure as defense minister in the previous government, sets minimum yearly targets for ultra-Orthodox conscription that, if not met, would trigger financial sanctions on the yeshivas where the students study. At the same time, it would also formalize exemptions for the vast majority of yeshiva students.
According to Channel 13 news, Likud held talks Monday with the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties on a new bill that would instead task the government with setting the conscription quotas for the ultra-Orthodox.
Liberman has not indicated he would support such a move, while Shas and UTJ have said they won’t join the coalition if the current bill is not changed.
With the May 28 deadline to form a government fast approaching, the network said Likud was planning to increase its outreach to Liberman on Tuesday.
Netanyahu has yet to sign a coalition agreement with any other party and in addition to Liberman is also at loggerheads with the Union of Right-Wing Parties, which is insisting the Justice Ministry be given to its No. 2, Bezelal Smotrich. The prime minister reportedly wants to appoint to the post outgoing Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, an ally of his in Likud.
Amid the impasse in coalition negotiations, Knesset members voted Monday to advance legislation that would expand the number of cabinet posts, in an effort to woo potential partners into the government.
Increasing the number of ministers would give Netanyahu additional collateral to court the parties he needs to give him a majority, while also satisfying the demands of his own party members, who are likely to miss out on key positions doled out to coalition partners.
On Sunday, Netanyahu complained that his potential coalition partners were unyielding in their demands and obstructing any prospect for significant progress in talks.
“Unfortunately, the parties are still at the top of the trees they have climbed,” the prime minister said at the opening of the cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
“I hope that the way will soon be found to bring them down to the ground so that together we can establish a strong and stable government for the State of Israel, which will continue to lead the country to new heights,” he said.
If Netanyahu fails to form a coalition by May 28, the task could be assigned to a different member of the Knesset. If no member of the legislature is likely to be able to form a government, the country could then face new elections.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.