The Yisrael Beytenu party’s chief negotiator in talks to form a coalition government said Monday that a compromise proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to end a deadlock with ultra-Orthodox parties is “fake” and vowed that his party will not give in to political pressure, even the threat to call fresh elections.
MK Oded Forer told Channel 13 news that the main problem is other prospective coalition partners not taking Yisrael Betyenu seriously, and suggested that Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who leads the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, is the one who is really controlling the coalition talks.
“Netanyahu’s offer is a fake compromise, they [the ultra-Orthodox] presented their original demand and made it as though it is a compromise proposal,” Forer said. “The question is, is Netanyahu the prime minister — or is Litzman the prime minister?”
If no deal is reached, Netanyahu’s Likud party said it would bring a proposal to dissolve the Knesset for the first of three Knesset votes on Monday afternoon, putting pressure on potential coalition parties to reach an agreement or face another election. Likud has repeatedly blamed Liberman’s stubbornness for preventing a coalition agreement as all the other parties involved are ready to sign.
“The ones who are going to elections, on a significant law, are the Haredim and Netanyahu — who decided to give in to every whim of Litzman on the matter,” Forer continued. “They thought they could make us give in to Litzman’s demands and enter [the coalition] because ‘there will be pressure’ to form a government.”
Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, of Netanyahu’s Likud party, on Monday accused Liberman of deceiving his voters by saying he wants a right-wing government under Netanyahu but then refusing to actually join the coalition.
“Regrettably, deceit is also permitted in politics,” Elkin told the Kan public broadcaster in an interview Monday. “A politician can tell his voters that he wants a right-wing government and then when the time comes to set up such a government — makes a demand that he already knows can’t be implemented.”
Netanyahu has yet to ink a deal with any of his prospective partners. The sticking point is a bill regulating the ultra-Orthodox military draft, which the Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] parties seek to soften, and which must swiftly be re-legislated under Supreme Court order. Liberman, meanwhile, has insisted he will not budge from a Defense Ministry-drafted version of the bill stipulating the number of ultra-Orthodox seminary students drafted into the military.
Netanyahu faces a Wednesday night deadline to form a coalition. On Sunday evening he met with potential coalition leaders and offered a compromise which would maintain the bill’s demands for drafting ultra-Orthodox men into the army, but allow the government to set the annual quotas for how many are called up. Ultra-Orthodox parties oppose the draft and seek to reduce as much as possible the number of community members who serve in the army. Although the ultra-Orthodox parties agreed to Netanyahu’s offer, Yisrael Beytenu rejected it.
“The implication of the proposal is that on Sunday you decide A and then on Monday you decide B,” Forer told Channel 13. “There is no oversight by the Knesset. We want what we said at the start; the problem is that no one is taking seriously what we are saying and for us it [the draft bill] is a red line.”
Forer repeated the Yisrael Beytenu claim that the current bill was already agreed on by the ultra-Orthodox parties in the previous government.
“Now they are coming on another whim and proposing to make compromise after compromise — we aren’t prepared to do that,” he said.
Liberman has offered his own solution to the standoff, suggesting that ultra-Orthodox legislators could leave the Knesset plenum if and when the draft law was finally approved, as they did when it passed its first reading in the last Knesset.
Likud won 35 seats in the April 9 election. The two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, each won eight seats. Moshe Kahlon’s center-right Kulanu won four. And the hawkish Union of Right-Wing Parties won five. Together, these parties hold 60 seats in the 120-member Knesset, and Netanyahu also needs the secular, right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, with its five seats, for a majority.
A senior political insider, familiar with the coalition talks, told The Times of Israel on Sunday that there was “a 95 percent chance” that Netanyahu would ultimately finalize his coalition. But, he added, “this is Israeli politics. Anything can happen.”