Netanyahu Seeking Coalition Without Haredim, Will Ask Peres for Extension

While the prime minister would have preferred a government with the ultra-Orthodox parties, the Lapid-Bennett coalition has made that impossible, sources close to negotiations say.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is working to reach a coalition agreement with Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi that will leave the ultra-Orthodox factions out of the coalition, sources close to the coalition talks said on Wednesday.

“Netanyahu has no choice,” said one source. “He would have preferred having the Haredim inside, but the simple math shows that he doesn’t have enough support for a government without [Naftali] Bennett and [Yair] Lapid,” the heads of Habayit Hayehudi and Yesh Atid, respectively.

“The negotiation team understands that he won’t succeed in breaking the alliance between Bennett and Lapid, and the significance of that is a coalition without the Haredim,” the source said.

Likud sources denied this claim, but a senior official in one of the Haredi factions confirmed on Wednesday that Netanyahu had indicated to him that he would likely have to leave the Haredim out of the government for now, though he would try to include them at a later stage.

“Lapid says he doesn’t mind sitting with the Haredim, but we understand that he really doesn’t want us,” said a source in one of the Haredi factions. “The proposal he’s making for equalizing the [defense] burden is such that we will not be able to sit with him at the cabinet table.”

Shas, however, denied receiving any such message from Netanyahu, saying that while a proposal to leave the Haredim out for now had been made by the Habayit Hayehudi negotiating team, it had been rejected by the Likud.

Party sources said that Aryeh Deri, in private conversations, had rejected the notion of being co-opted in some second stage.

“No way,” Deri was quoted as saying. “The day we aren’t in the government, we will be in the opposition, and we’ll be a fighting opposition with all that implies – whether it relates to diplomatic, religious or social issues. There’s no middle ground.”

Deri said that in some respects, sitting in the opposition could be a relief. “At least we won’t be partner to the economic decrees that are keeping me awake at night.”

In recent days, MKs from Shas and United Torah Judaism have been trying to persuade Labor’s Shelly Yacimovich to join the government, so that the Haredim could also join and leave Bennett and Lapid out in the cold. But Yacimovich is sticking to her opposition to joining a Netanyahu-led government.

Netanyahu to ask Peres for more time

Netanyahu, meanwhile, intends to ask President Shimon Peres to extend the deadline for forming a government by two weeks. The 28 days that Peres gave Netanyahu expire at the end of the week.

"There are understandings on some issues, but we're not close to signing a coalition agreement yet," a source in Habayit Hayehudi said Wednesday. The party representatives held two meetings on Wednesday with Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu's negotiating team.

A Habayit Hayehudi source said progress was made only on the Haredi conscription issue. "But we haven't begun to discuss the peace process yet. We haven't received the information we demanded on the budget," the source said.

He added that Netanyahu also intends to ask the Knesset for a 120-day extension for submitting the budget, meaning the 2013 state budget might only be approved in the summer.

The Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu team is due to meet Yesh Atid's negotiators on Thursday.

Both Habayit Hayehudi and Yesh Atid strongly object to Netanyahu's intention to appoint Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni head of the peace talks with the Palestinians. Their demand to revoke this understanding could undermine the only coalition agreement Netanyahu has signed so far.

"Livni's appointment is a disaster," MK Uri Ariel of Habayit Hayehudi told the Likud negotiation team on Wednesday. People in his party also said that as justice minister, Livni could obstruct efforts to make changes to the judicial system.

Yesh Atid intends to raise its objections to Livni's appointment at its meeting with the Likud team on Thursday. Yesh Atid sources also said Netanyahu's decision to give Livni's party two ministerial portfolios sets up a problematic ratio that would increase the number of ministers instead of reducing it. Lapid said before the election that he wanted an 18-member cabinet. If he and Habayit Hayehudi join the coalition without the Haredi parties, the cabinet would have 23 ministers based on the ratio set by the agreement with Hatnuah (two ministers per six MKs).

Yesh Atid also fears that if Livni heads the peace talks with the Palestinians, it could pose conflicts for the foreign minister, a position Lapid's party may demand.

In a meeting on February 2, President Shimon Peres (right) granted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 28 days to form a government.Credit: Reuters

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