Coalition Impasse Presents Deep Crisis for Netanyahu

Yair Lapid reportedly hasn’t spoken with Likud in a week; Benjamin Netanyahu could drop Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah from the cabinet.

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Illustration by Amos Biderman.
Illustration by Amos Biderman.

The heads of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties said Sunday they had received offers to join both Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition and a new center-left one led by the Labor Party and Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid.

But the ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, parties rejected these options, saying neither was practical, said Aryeh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. He said there simply had to be a new election.

MK Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) added that he had rejected a proposal by Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog to form a new government. MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) has said that if the ultra-Orthodox replaced centrist Yesh Atid in the government, they would only be strengthening Lapid before the next election.

Last week Netanyahu started trying to convince the Haredi parties to join the coalition; one possibility would see United Torah Judaism and Shas replace Yesh Atid.  

“It’s impossible to call it negotiations, but contacts are going on all the time,” said a senior official in United Torah Judaism. Netanyahu has sent people to talk with UTJ, but for now it’s just talk, the official said.

Lapid has cut off all contact with coalition whip Zeev Elkin, and all attempts to advance the 2015 state budget have failed, political sources say, calling the impasse a deep crisis for Netanyahu’s government.

Netanyahu’s people are accusing Lapid of trying to undermine the prime minister and form a cabinet headed by Lapid — even before the next election.

Yesh Atid officials are accusing Netanyahu of stoking the conflict by espousing  extreme positions. They say Netanyahu is trying to block the budget legislation as a way to be reelected Likud chairman in the January primary.

Both coalition and opposition MKs say Lapid does not have the 61 votes in the 120-seat Knesset to let him unseat Netanyahu and form a new government.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu would have a hard time shuffling his coalition to govern without Lapid amid the opposition of coalition partners, especially Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu.  

Speculation pervaded the Knesset on Sunday that Netanyahu would fire Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnuah) and have ultra-Orthodox parties replace their parties in the coalition. Likud sources said Netanyahu wanted to end the partnership with Lapid but Lieberman’s distaste for the Haredi parties prevented this.

According to a source close to Netanyahu, the prime minister thinks a new election is probably in the offing.

“Someone has convinced him to believe that Lapid also wants to dissolve the government after the budget is passed,” the source said.

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