Shas set to follow Livni into Netanyahu government

Party leaders say deal with Likud party could be signed within days; Kadima may follow suit

Ilan Ben Zion is an AFP reporter and a former news editor at The Times of Israel.

Shas co-leaders Ariel Atias (right), Aryeh Deri (center) and Eli Yishai address the party on January 27. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Shas co-leaders Ariel Atias (right), Aryeh Deri (center) and Eli Yishai address the party on January 27. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

The ultra-Orthodox Shas party may follow on the heels of Tzipi Livni and her Hatnua party and join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s emerging coalition in the next few days.

Shas expects to arrive at an agreement on the IDF draft issue with Netanyahu’s Likud-Yisrael Beytenu faction this week, party officials told Channel 10 on Tuesday, shortly after Livni and Netanyahu announced their pact.

Negotiations between Likud and Shas witnessed “significant progress” toward bringing the 12-seat party into the government, senior party officials said.

The deal would be based on 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.

The Yesh Atid and Jewish Home parties rejected the Kendall proposal when Netanyahu’s team pitched it in coalition talks last week.

Shas and Likud-Beytenu have reportedly not yet hashed out the particulars of which ministerial positions the ultra-Orthodox party would receive should it join the coalition. Livni and Shas leader Aryeh Deri spoke following Tuesday’s press conference at which she and Netanyahu announced the deal between their two parties.

Deri praised Livni’s decision and said she could “contribute a great deal with her experience” in overcoming the country’s various challenges.

“Today, the state of Israel needs a government that will unite the various national factions and won’t cause disagreement and discourse that delegitimizes others,” Deri said. Livni responded by saying that she expected Shas to announce its imminent participation in the budding government.

The two-seat Kadima party also appeared close to joining a Netanyahu government — having abandoned a unity government with Likud seven months ago. Should Kadima join a Netanyahu-led coalition, party chairman Shaul Mofaz would be appointed strategic affairs minister, Channel 10 reported.

With Hatnua’s six, Shas’s 12 and Kadima’s two seats married to his party’s 31, Netanyahu would hold a total of 51 seats out of 120 in the Knesset, 10 short of a 61-seat majority. Haaretz on Tuesday night reported that some members of Likud-Beytenu were speculating that Netanyahu may try to build a minority coalition of 57 MKs, with the above three parties and United Torah Judaism, which brings six seats to the table.

The Yesh Atid and Jewish Home parties have thus far resisted Netanyahu’s overtures to join the coalition, insisting that several key policy demands be met first. An attempt to form a minority coalition, which could be kept afloat by virtue of the Arab parties’ resistance to sign on to a Zionist-led opposition, could preclude the need for Netanyahu to court Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and the Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennett, but seems an improbable scenario that Netanyahu would prefer to avoid.

Sources in the Jewish Home party said that Livni’s entrance into the coalition and her appointment as chief negotiator in talks with the Palestinians would make it harder for them to join the government.

United Torah Judaism officials have begun compiling a document of principles outlining the political concessions the party is willing to make in coalition talks, Maariv reported earlier Tuesday.

The party would support, for example, the evacuation of isolated settlements in the West Bank and agree to freeze construction in ones that are outside the main settlement blocs, and even vote for the cessation of settlement funding and commit to not expanding some of the large settlement blocs, in exchange for a continuation of the funding of yeshivas and religious schools and keeping the status quo regarding limited conscription of the ultra-Orthodox into the IDF.

The party, which controls the Knesset Finance Committee, said it would also reveal how much money it costs to keep isolated settlements and outposts in the West Bank, the report said.

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