Fissure over ministers unresolved after party heads meet
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Coalition talks

Fissure over ministers unresolved after party heads meet

Likud, Yesh Atid and Jewish Home said to agree on severe personal sanctions on ultra-Orthodox who dodge IDF service; another powwow set for Monday night

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Jewish Home chief Naftali Bennett held talks Monday afternoon but failed to break through on a number of issues holding up the signing of a coalition deal.

Gaps still remain between the sides on who will hold the Education and Interior ministry posts and on how many ministers there will be, Channel 2 reported.

The sides are set to meet again Monday night.

After a weekend of marathon negotiations  potential coalition partners agreed on Sunday on a general outline of “severe personal sanctions” against Haredim who fail to sign up for IDF or national service, Ma’ariv reported. Reportedly, those who do not enlist will not face criminal charges, but will be prohibited from leaving the country and won’t be eligible for welfare and tax benefits (including social security payments for large families), among other penalties.

In addition, religious educational institutions that encourage their students to dodge the draft, like some ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, will face a “significant” reduction in funding from the state.

The party leaders met for almost two hours on Sunday, but Yesh Atid said large gaps still remained, and Likud-Beytenu accused Lapid of stalling talks over demands for new universal draft legislation.

Netanyahu has until March 16 to form a governing coalition. If he fails, President Shimon Peres could ask another party leader to try to form a government, or call for new general elections.

While most issues were said to have been resolved, the sides still needed to work out the final distribution of ministerial posts, among other issues, with Yesh Atid and Likud both apparently aiming to hold the education portfolio.

Likud was reportedly determined to see party member and current Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar maintain his position, while Yesh Atid would like the post to go to MK Rabbi Shai Piron.

Hopes have run high in the last several days for a new government to be sworn in by mid-week.

Speaking to members of his Yisrael Beytenu faction Sunday afternoon, MK Avigdor Liberman said he was certain a new government would be sworn in by week’s end.

Another of the final sticking points appeared to be a disagreement between the largely secular Yesh Atid and the religious-hardline Jewish Home regarding an initiative to provide public transportation on Saturday. One more issue that was holding up a deal was said to be Bennett’s demand for the Public Diplomacy Ministry in addition to the position of industry, trade and labor minister.

Lapid, who had hoped to become foreign minister, will instead serve as finance minister. The Foreign Ministry post will be kept open for former FM Liberman, who resigned in December to fight corruption charges and hopes to clear his name and return quickly to the post.

The defense minister will likely be former IDF chief of the General Staff Moshe Ya’alon (Likud); Housing could well go to Jewish Home’s Uri Ariel, while the same party’s Eli Ben Dahan could take Religious Affairs; and Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz could become minister of welfare.

The coalition will likely comprise Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu (31 seats), Yesh Atid (19), Jewish Home (12), Hatnua (6) and Kadima (2), for a total of 70. Labor (15) will lead an opposition that will also include the two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas (11) and United Torah Judaism (7).

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