New Israeli Government Guidelines Push Peace Process to Margins

Coalition to be sworn in Monday will be focusing heavily on social and economic policies, and compromises on Haredi draft, housing and the size of government.

Overcoming last-minute negotiation crises, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett signed coalition agreements on Friday, concluding the protracted and exhausting coalition talks that Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu conducted over the past several weeks and paving the way for Israel’s 33rd government to be sworn in at the Knesset on Monday. The agreements focus almost entirely on economic and social policy with barely a mention of peace talks.

Among other compromises, Bennett dropped demands to be named deputy prime minister and Lapid dropped his efforts to include civil marriage.

The coalition agreements signed with both parties make almost no mention of the peace process. A special cabinet that will include the heads of all the factions will be established to deal with the broad mandate to manage the talks that Netanyahu gave to Justice Minister-elect Tzipi Livni. In addition, Habayit Hayehudi added a clause to the agreement requiring the government to pass a law within 90 days mandating a referendum over any agreement that includes handing over territory.

The coalition agreement was signed after officials of Habayit Hayehudi and Yesh Atid were placated at the end of another mini-crisis when it turned out that the prime minister did not intend to appoint either Naftali Bennett or Lapid as vice prime ministers. The compromise agreement stipulated that they would be appointed vice prime ministers or deputy prime ministers if Netanyahu chose to use those titles.

Yisrael Beiteinu is considered the big winner in the coalition talks. For its 11 Knesset members, the party will receive five ministerial positions: foreign affairs is being saved for Avigdor Lieberman until the conclusion of his trial; the agriculture portfolio will go to Yair Shamir; Yitzhak Aharonovitch will keep the public security portfolio; the tourism portfolio will go to Uzi Landau and Sofia Landver will keep the immigrant-absorption portfolio. The defense minister or the deputy interior minister will also be a member of Yisrael Beiteinu, as will the head of the prestigious Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee (which will be headed, for now, by Lieberman himself), as will the heads of two other committees.

The final version of the law mandating Haredi military service was appended to the coalition agreements and will be submitted 45 days from the day the government is formed. The bill will pass in the government plenum before the 2013 budget is submitted to the Knesset. 

In the economic area, it was agreed that when the budget is submitted, incoming Finance Minister Lapid, who held his first meeting with outgoing finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, last Friday, will draw up a plan for the gradual integration of the criterion of “full use of earning capacity” for any benefit, discount or exemption granted by government ministries.

In addition, the coalition will promote Yesh Atid’s program to encourage and support small businesses. It was also determined that Bennett would head the newly-named Economics and Trade Ministry (formerly the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry).

Education Minister-elect Rabbi Shay Piron will draft, within six months, a basic core curriculum for the school system that all Israeli children will be obligated to study. As part of the agreement, Habayit Hayehudi received a broad mandate to make substantial changes in the religious services system in Israel. It was agreed that within 30 days, the Chief Rabbinate would be transferred to the Religious Services Ministry (which will be formally given to Bennett but actually run by Deputy Minister-elect Eli Ben-Dahan) and that the holy sites would be transferred there from the Tourism Ministry. The Religious Services Ministry will also receive charge of the conversion apparatus and all issues pertaining to the sabbatical year.

Regarding issues of religion and state, it was determined that Habayit Hayehudi would have the ability to veto any legislation in that area that might be proposed by the coalition. Yesh Atid, for its part, gave up demands for legislation regarding civil marriage. Thus, for example, the agreement makes no mention of expanding civil unions, instituting same-sex marriage or running public transportation on the Sabbath.

As far as housing, Netanyahu accepted the demand of Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi to establish a housing-affairs cabinet headed by Yair Lapid. In addition, within 30 days from the day the government is established, the Housing Minister will amend the rules for housing entitlements, making “full use of earning capacity” one of the criteria for eligibility.

Additionally, the coalition agreements include broad changes in governance. It was determined that in its first meeting, the cabinet would submit a plan to the Knesset to change the system of government, which would be applied from the 20th Knesset onward. According to the plan, the number of ministers in the next government would be set at a maximum of 18 (in addition to the prime minister), the number of deputy ministers would be no more than four and there would be no ministers without portfolio. No-confidence motions would pass only by a majority of 65 MKs, and the electoral threshold would be increased to four percent.

In the wake of Kadima’s split during the previous term, and in order to lower the motivation for additional splits, faction members who split off from their factions will not be eligible for funding except for candidate lists comprising several parties that submit an agreement and an announcement in accordance with the law regarding the Knesset. 

In addition, the new Knesset will have a hard time moving legislation forward without the coalition’s explicit approval since a majority of 61 MKs will be required to approve laws that cost the budget more than NIS 50 million.

The coalition agreements also include a clause targeted at the Haredim. The clause stipulates that bringing additional parties into the coalition may be done only with the explicit, written agreement of the four parties that comprise the coalition: the joint list of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, Yesh Atid, Habayit Hayehudi and Hatnuah.

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