Bennett Demands to Have Veto on Religion-state Bills in Next Cabinet

The Habayit Hayehudi leader hopes to trump Yisrael Beiteinu on the issue.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Dery, Lapid and Bennett in the Knesset, February 22, 2013.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi demands the right to veto any legislation on issues of religion and state in the coalition agreement that the right-wing party is crafting with Likud.

This would be similar to the two parties’ agreement for the previous coalition, under which Habayit Hayehudi could block bills that would change the status quo on religious issues, among them public transportation on the Sabbath and civil unions for same-sex couples.

Centrist parties that champion religion-state reforms like Yesh Atid are not expected to be part of the next governing coalition. Still, Habayit Hayehudi wants a key say on issues that currently might entice Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu into the coalition.

At the same time, the veto could be used to foil the demand by the ultra-Orthodox parties to drop the proposals on reforming the process for conversions to Judaism. Those proposals were approved by the outgoing government in November.

Also yesterday, Likud made “some progress” in talks with the centrist Kulanu party in a bid to get Kulanu into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s next governing coalition, sources in the two parties said.

Netanyahu met for several hours with Kulanu chief Moshe Kahlon in an attempt to move ahead deadlocked coalition talks between the two parties. Sources close to Kahlon and Netanyahu said the meeting took place in a positive atmosphere.

In the meeting, Kahlon said he wants his party to control the Planning Administration, which is currently under the Interior Ministry. He also wants Kulanu to have the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee.

Kulanu says it sees these two demands as tools to boost Kahlon’s program to bring down housing prices and the cost of living.

But other parties also have their eye on these two posts. Shas chief Arye Dery, who is expected to be interior minister, wants the Planning Administration to stay with the Interior Ministry.

During a post-Passover celebration yesterday, Dery warned the parties in the coalition talks that Netanyahu might turn to Zionist Union if the rightist and centrist parties did not show more flexibility.

“From our point of view we could close a deal for the cabinet, but it depends on others,” Dery said.

Likud has been considering a number of possibilities for a compromise over the Planning Administration. One is to move the Planning Administration to the Finance Ministry, a portfolio expected to go to Kahlon. Shas MK Yitzhak Cohen could then become deputy finance minister.

Another possibility is to formalize understandings between Kahlon and Dery that the Planning Administration would push forward Kahlon’s planned reforms. But Kulanu sources said their party would continue to insist on the chairmanship of the Finance Committee.

Still, Likud sources said they doubted that Kulanu would remain intractable over the Finance Committee chairmanship. They said they believed agreements could be reached under which United Torah Judaism’s Moshe Gafni would become chairman.

Many politicians are calling for a change in the Basic Law on the Government that would significantly shorten the time allowed for coalition talks. “If the law defined a shorter period or coalition negotiations, we would already have closed the deal,” a senior Likud member told Haaretz.

“Almost all the parties involved in the talks are dragging out the discussions. They’re hope to wring out more benefits instead of closing matters in the shortest amount of time.”

MK Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) said he would submit a bill to shorten the time allotted for coalition talks. According to Hasson, the bill will deal with instances in which at least 65 MKs in the 120-member Knesset recommend a candidate to form a government.

If the coalition talks do not end in the coming days, President Reuven Rivlin is expected to summon Netanyahu next Tuesday to extend the negotiations for two more weeks. That would be one day before the end of the initial period, which this year falls on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Under the law, Netanyahu must form a coalition by May 6.

According to the Basic Law on the Government, the president must decide within seven days of an

election on a candidate to form a cabinet. That person has 28 days to consult and negotiate. If a coalition does not emerge in that time, the president may grant the additional 14 days.

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