'Netanyahu May Compromise on Extreme Versions of Nation-state Bill'

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Benjamin Netanyahu, flanked by Shas chairman Arye Dery, in the Knesset. November 13, 2014.Credit: Emil Salman

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be willing to reach a compromise regarding the Jewish nation-state bill, members of Likud, Yesh Atid and Habit Hayehudi surmise.

Contrary to previous reports, Netanyahu may not require the coalition to vote on two extreme versions of the bill – which defines Israel as a Jewish state and grants national rights only to the Jewish people, while upholding all citizens' rights as individuals – before presenting his own version that would replace those.

The coalition was supposed to vote on the bill on Wednesday, but the vote was postponed for a week.

However, Netanyahu discussed the bill, and presented several of it clauses, at a Knesset discussion on Wednesday that was meant to focus on the high cost of living in Israel.

Netanyahu's version does not explicitly mention the principle of equality, but does include a vague clause that refers to the state affirming "the personal rights of all [Israel's] citizens according to law."

"Israel promises equal individual rights, regardless of religion, race and gender, and it is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and theirs alone," Netanyahu said Wednesday. "This combination, between the national rights of the Jewish people and individual rights, is a common thread in the founding documents from Israel's establishment."

Netanyahu went on to say, "I understand why Hamas opposes the nation-state bill, but not why some of my closest friends do. I oppose a bi-national state. I want a one-nation state: A Jewish nation state that is home to non-Jews with equal rights. Whoever talks about two states for two peoples and opposes the bill is saying that Palestinians deserve a national homeland, and that the state will be a bi-national state. This bill will prevent attempts to change the national anthem, will thwart efforts to flood Israel with Palestinian refugees and will serve as a barrier for those who aspire to Arab autonomy in the Galilee and the Negev."

According to a deal struck on Sunday, the coalition was to have voted in favor of the two extreme versions of the nation-state bill presented by MKs Zeev Elkin and Ayelet Shaked and Yariv Levin in a preliminary reading at the Knesset. The drafters of those versions would then withdraw them and back Netanyahu's version of the bill, which has yet to be fully formulated. However, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yesh Atid ministers refused to vote in favor of the extreme versions.

Shaked, meanwhile, is willing to forgo her version of the bill and to back Netanyahu's even before the preliminary reading, Haaretz has learned.

Coalition members posit that Netanyahu's determination to move forward with his version of the nation-state bill prove he will not demand support for the other two drafts.

However, some senior coalition members said that the prime minister may still be seeking to join forces with the ultra-Orthodox parties in a deal that would have them support him for another term as premier in exchange for the dissolution of the government and early elections.

Shas chairman Aryeh Deri did not reject the possibility on Wednesday. In a statement, Deri outlined the guidelines for joining Netanyahu. “I have two iron-clad rules for our joining any future government, and they are raising the minimum wage to 30 shekels an hour, and rather than charging zero VAT on apartments, to charge zero VAT on staple items.”

It remains unclear whether the ultra-Orthodox parties, who have publicly rejected any prospects of cooperating with Netanyahu, will agree to the new initiative.