Coalition negotiations have just become a lot more complicated. After it appeared that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to bring the Jewish Home into his new coalition, following the news about the political alliance agreement between Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, yesterday the Bennett folks were telling the press that the Likud negotiating team is only using them to “bring down the price” of Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, and in reality they have no intention of including Jewish Home in a Likud-led government.
Originally, Likud sources involved in the negotiations claimed that they intended to present Bennett with “an offer he can’t refuse,” and bring him in as the first partner to join the coalition. However, on Wednesday, a senior Jewish Home MK told Maariv: “I don’t know of any tempting offers and right now there is no preferential treatment for us. I haven’t heard any concrete offer from the Likud, certainly not regarding government posts. For now, we don’t even have an understanding, and everyone in the talks is just talking about whatever they please.”
The source added that on the issue of equal burden (meaning Haredim serving in the IDF) there isn’t even a discussion about the outline of a compromise. “Nothing is happening right now, just do a lot of empty talk with nothing concrete on the table.”
Others inside the Jewish Home party sound even more pessimistic, arguing unequivocally that the entire thing has been a Likud exercise in divide and conquer, designed to soften the demands of other parties. “The talk of making offers to the Jewish Home is only intended to lower Lapid’s price, to return to the good old option of coalition government with the Haredim and the center-left,” they said.
“Before the elections, the Likud focused mainly on attacking the Jewish Home, even when it led to losing seats to Lapid. After the elections, Netanyahu called on everybody except us, and only when he had no choice he made a perfunctory call to Bennett. He did not even have an appointment with Naftali, he only sent Liberman to him. All of a sudden, as soon as Yair Lapid hardens his positions, they want the Jewish Home in the coalition. As soon as Lapid lowers his demands, the Likud will return the Jewish Home to its pre-appointed place – last in line and first to be kicked out to the opposition.”
That last part sounded quite resentful, even borderline whiney. Not the tough talk you’d expect from our home grown heroes. And it only got worse:
” Shas called us a Goyeshe Home,” a source told Zeev Kam of Maariv, referring to the nasty comment from Rav Ovadia Yosef regarding Ayelet Shaked’s proposal to offer state sanctioned marriages to couples who were rejected by the Rabbinate. “Now the Likud is trying to use us as the Shabbes Goy, doing for him the job of lowering the prices of other parties. If they were seriousness about including us, it would have happened already.”
Meanwhile, the Likud-Beitenu negotiating team has been frustrated by slow progress of coalition talks, and criticism of Yesh Atid for its stubbornness regarding solving the equal burden problem. A senior Likud members did his own whining, complaining that Lapid’s offers regarding Haredi service would never pass muster in the Knesset. “Lapid’s proposal, as it stands today, will not pass and is not feasible,” claimed the senior negotiators. “It will not pass either in the Knesset or even in the coalition.”
Those same senior Likudniks added that the main obstacle blocking Lapid’s outline, is his view on the quotas of yeshiva students allowed to continue their learning. “The quota system just does not work,” they explained. “It will only cause a rift in the nation the law would not be obeyed.”
Suddenly, those secular Likudniks started to sound like the old guard Haredim when they stressed: “We take seriously those who tell us the Lapid approach is a decree the public cannot sustain (gzera sh’ein ha’tzibur yachol la’amod bah). We don’t want to cause a rift in the nation. We want to propose a bill that could be implemented.”
Others in the Likud Party said on Wednesday that while they do want to bring about a substantial change through equal burden legislation, they want to do it without creating a rift. “Lapid’s outline is too extreme,” they said.
Do you get the feeling that the Haredi position on military service is a lot like, le’havdil, the Palestinian position on territory? In both cases, the Israeli government keeps offering comprises, while the other side’s idea of a compromise is total capitulation of the government. Right now, there is no major Haredi leader who considers any service at all for anyone at all as an option. If Lapid gives in at this point, he is bound to lose his voter base – which is exactly what Netanyahu is hoping.
Indeed, the Yesh Atid team, led by several old war horses, including Uri Shani, who used to be the Likud CEO and a special adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, are not particularly impressed by the Likud’s maneuvering and statements—which continue to be as lame as the Likud campaign that cost the party 11 seats. You’d expect the political pros to be on the prime minister’s team, but those seem to be exclusively amateurs—as in whoever it was who advised Avigdor Libernman to start badmouthing Lapid for his ambitions (“There’s this one guy who hasn’t yet warmed a Knesset seat and already wants to be prime minister,” Liberman griped, sounding like the Russian version of Rav Ovadia.).
So Yesh Atid is not giving an inch. “Sure, we can compromise on some small details where a dialog is possible, like the number of students who continue to study in yeshivas, but not on the core outline,” senior party officials clarified in response. “If anyone thinks that it’s feasible for us get into the government without a law that states that every young Israeli is charged with either military or civilian service, and that no community is exempt from this duty, they should know that there is nothing to discuss.”
Interestingly, Avigdor Liberman has traditionally been just as vehement about making the Haredim serve, but on him it always looked more like a ploy to attract his Russian voters than a serious principle—after all, he’s had four years to do something about it as leader of the second largest coalition partner.
Both Yesh Atid and Jewish Home are scheduled to continue their sessions with the Likud on Thursday, and you are welcome to view this entire article, with all the leaks in it, as those two parties’ own means of exerting pressure on Netanyahu.
It’s the 28 days of coalition talks, a notoriously nasty and angry period on Israel’s political calendar. In the end there are no winners, only less bruised losers.
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published two fun books: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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