Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu is exerting heavy pressure on Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett to break his alliance with Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and form a government comprised mainly of rightist and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties.
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Negotiators from Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi are expected to hold a “decisive meeting” on the subject on Friday, a source involved in the talks said.
The meeting was called after Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu concluded that Yesh Atid is unwilling to sit in a governing coalition with the ultra-Orthodox parties.
Regardless of what happens, however, the talks aren’t expected to conclude on Friday. On Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to ask President Shimon Peres to grant him another two weeks to conduct negotiations.
At the end of a meeting with Yesh Atid's negotiating team, David Shimron, the lawyer who heads Likud's coalition negotiations team, said: "We devoted much of the meeting to clarifying Yesh Atid's position on having the Haredi parties join the coalition."
"The answer we received on this was that as far as Yesh Atid is concerned there is no place for the Haredim in the next government," said Shimron. "We are presenting this question to Habayit Hayehudi to find out whether Habayit Hayehudi also rules out the Haredi parties from joining the government. To this end, we have arranged a meeting with representatives of Habayit Hayehudi for tomorrow (Friday) morning and we will clarify this point," he said.
The negotiators also denied reports that Netanyahu intends to establish a coalition without Haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism.
In response to the remarks about Yesh Atid, Shas leader Aryeh Deri said: "Today it became clear to the whole of the nation of Israel that behind Yesh Atid's supposed concern over universal army draft is pure hatred of the ultra-Orthodox."
In response to the report, Yesh Atid said: "We will continue to stick to our principles. A large part of the public trusted Yesh Atid because of that and the party hopes the next government will reflect the will of the people for change that will be expressed in a new agenda for the State of Israel."
Earlier Thursday, just before the meeting with Yesh Atid representatives, Shimron and Moshe Leon, also in Likud's negotiating team, said that Netanyahu will not give up on his goal of establishing as broad a coalition as possible.
"We are continuing with our efforts to build a government that will include both the Haredim and Habayit Hayehudi, in the hope that Yesh Atid and Kadima will also [join] a broad government," Shimron said.
"The challenges facing the State of Israel are enormous," said Shimron and Leon. "We need the entire population represented in the government and to hold a democratic debate within the cabinet," he added. "It is impossible to meet the challenges properly and correctly without acting to establish a broad government," they said.
On Thursday morning, the three heads of Shas, outgoing Interior Ministry Eli Yishai, Aryeh Deri and MK Ariel Atias said that the party will not join Netanyahu’s government later in the future if the prime minister does not bring them in now.
The Shas leaders’ decision is meant to keep the prime minister from forming a government with Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi – one that would be able to formulate far-reaching legislation regarding the draft of ultra-Orthodox young men – and only then invite the ultra-Orthodox parties into the coalition only after the law is passed.
“We will not allow Netanyahu to create the coalition in two stages,” a senior Shas official said. “If the prime minister doesn’t wants us as part of the government now, we will take the opposition benches for the rest of the term and we will vote against his government’s policies.”