‘Yesh Atid says it won’t join coalition with ultra-Orthodox’

Likud negotiator David Shimron says PM, who will seek 14 more days to build government on Saturday night, still wants broad gov’t; 76% of Israelis want Haredim out

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not given up on his aspirations to include the two ultra-Orthodox parties in his government, alongside Yesh Atid and Jewish Home, the Likud’s coalition negotiations coordinator, attorney David Shimron, said Thursday afternoon.

But Shimron also acknowledged, later Thursday, that Yesh Atid is flatly opposed to the participation of the ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition. He said Yesh Atid’s representatives at talks Thursday stated that they see “no place for the ultra-Orthodox in the next government.”

Shimron is to hold talks Friday with Jewish Home’s representatives, whose position on the issue is said to be less adamant, but who are sticking to their commitment to enter the coalition only if Yesh Atid does so. Jewish Home sources said late Thursday they didn’t rule out any prospective coalition partners.

Talks tentatively scheduled for Friday between the Likud and Shas were canceled at Shas’s insistence, amid the increasingly fraught jockeying between the parties.

“Netanyahu does not intend to form a narrow government with [Naftali] Bennett and [Yair] Lapid,” Shimron had said prior to his meeting with Yesh Atid party officials. “We are continuing our efforts to form a broad coalition which would include the ultra-Orthodox parties, the Jewish Home party, and we hope it would include the Yesh Atid party and Kadima as well.”

Shimron went on to explain Netanyahu’s position, stating that “the challenges facing the state of Israel are enormous ones, external challenges as well as social challenges internally. We need the entire Israeli public represented in the government. It is impossible to deal with these challenges correctly without working towards forming a broad-based government.”

Netanyahu’s negotiating teams have been meeting daily with Jewish Home leaders, while the meeting with Yesh Atid party representatives was the first after nearly two weeks. The talks, which lasted three hours, were said to have addressed the key differences between the sides. An additional meeting was scheduled for the near future.

Yesh Atid sources said the party’s plans for alleviating the housing crisis, educational reform, and electoral reform were among the issues discussed.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz reiterated Shimron’s stance in an interview with Channel 2. “We need a broad government,” Steinitz said. “If we want to protect Israel’s interests regarding security issues, economic policies and other pressing concerns, we must form a coalition that represents the Israeli public in its entirety.”

Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman also expressed hope that the ultra-Orthodox parties would ultimately join the coalition, and said Bennett and Lapid were driven by “ego” and would be “punished by their voters” for their failure to compromise on the terms of a universal draft bill.

Netanyahu has been hampered in the coalition talks by the joint insistence of Jewish Home’s Bennett and Yesh Atid’s Lapid that they will only enter the government if Netanyahu commits to legislation that will see almost all young ultra-Orthodox males required to perform military or national service — anathema to the prime minister’s familiar ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.

So concerned are the ultra-Orthodox parties at the possibility of being excluded, a Channel 10 report claimed on Wednesday, that they have indicated a readiness to accept a proposal put together by Eugene Kandel, the head of Israel’s National Economic Council, according to which the IDF would draft upwards of 60% of ultra-Orthodox Israelis aged 18-24 within five years, and the government would provide monetary incentives to those who comply, while penalizing the yeshivas of those who don’t. Previously, the ultra-Orthodox parties opposed these parameters, though they had indicated a readiness for some increase in the proportion of ultra-Orthodox young men — most of whom currently do not serve — being inducted into the IDF.

Earlier on Thursday, Eli Yishai, one of the political leaders of Shas, acknowledged that his party would in all probability be left out of Netanyahu’s emergent coalition. Yishai launched a blistering attack on Lapid and Bennett, saying the alliance between the two party leaders was forged solely with an eye toward harming the ultra-Orthodox community.

“Shas will make an effort to be a part of the next coalition,” Yishai said, “but it won’t ‘sell out’ on its values, beliefs and principles in order to partner with people whose sole common goal is to harm the world of Torah.”

MK Moshe Gafni, of the United Torah Judaism party, also said Thursday that Netanyahu had assured him of his desire to have the ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition.

Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon warned of the looming collapse of the nationalist bloc due to the Jewish Home’s relunctance to enter the coalition. “Whether it is because we go to a new round of elections or because a coalition will be formed without a right wing majority, the Jewish Home party will be the one’s responsible for missing an historic opportunity,” siad Ya’alon.

Netanyahu, whose Likud-Beytenu won 31 seats in the January 22 elections, was given 28 days by President Shimon Peres on February 2 to form a coalition, but has signed up only Tzipi Livni’s six-seat Hatnua party to date. On Saturday night, he is scheduled to meet with Peres and will be granted a 14-day extension, which will take him to March 16.

According to the findings of a survey conducted by Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University, 76% of Israeli respondents preferred a government formed by the center and right-wing parties without the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, Channel 10 reported Thursday. Only 13% backed a Likud-Beytenu, Jewish Home and ultra-Orthodox government, and 11% opted for a Likud, ultra-Orthodox and Labor Party coalition.

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