Habayit Hayehudi's Naftali Bennett confirmed publicly Saturday that he had reached a clear agreement with Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid that both parties would join Netanyahu's governing coalition together - or not at all.
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Bennett, who is set to meet with Netanyahu for coalition discussions on Sunday, said Lapid had already refused to join Netanyahu's coalition without Habayit Hayehudi, and therefore Habayit Hayehudi must stick to its end of the bargain, and refrain from joining a coalition that does not include Yesh Atid.
"We agreed that Yesh Atid wouldn't enter the government without Habayit Hayehudi and that Habayit Hayehudi wouldn't enter without Yesh Atid," Bennett wrote on his Facebook page on Saturday. "When we reached these understandings, Yesh Atid was in a better position than us. We are out and they were in. Yair Lapid stood by his word to me and the public I represent. Now the tables are turned. Suddenly, Likud wants us without Yesh Atid. It's our turn to stand by our word. A word is a word. I will stand by it."
Bennet posted his comments on Facebook after President Shimon Peres granted Netanyahu two more weeks to form Israel's next government on Saturday.
After coming first in Israel's January election, Netanayhu has publicly stated that he aims to form a broad coalition, but after a month of negotiations it seems unlikely that Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi will agree to join a government that includes ultra-Orthodox parties. Netanyahu hinted to Peres on Saturday that the blame behind the delay lies with Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid, and Habayit Hayehudi's Naftali Bennett, who have formed an alliance, saying that the delay in forming a coalition was due to political "boycotts."
In his Facebook post, Bennett went on to explain how the relationship between his party and Netanyahu's Likud developed after the elections in January, and described the reasons for his choosing to ally with Lapid.
"In the days following the elections, Likud officials refused to speak with Habayit Hayehudi. They boycotted us. They told us we would not be in the government," Bennett said. "We expected to be the first natural partner that would go into Netanyahu's government. We also recommended Netanyahu to the president [as prime minister], without any conditions. As we promised in the elections. But the message from Likud was simple: Religious Zionism would not be in the government at any price. Forget it."
"At the same time, the prime minister met twice with Lapid, with Tzipi Livni, with Shelly [Yacimovich], with [Shaul] Mofaz, and even with Zahava Gal-On. Only Religious Zionism stayed boycotted, outside the government. We are heading for a government of the leftwing and the ultra-Orthodox, Likud told us," the Habayit Hayehudi leader said.
'Lapid wants the Haredis out'
Outgoing Interior Minister Eli Yishai also commented on the issue on his Facebook page on Saturday, saying that Lapid wants to exclude the ultra-Orthodox from government.
Lapid "never aimed at benefiting the middle class or the students. He used his literary, presentational and rhetorical skills for one purpose only - the expulsion of the Haredim from the government and from Israeli society," Yishai wrote.
"He has yet to comprehend that we are not a group that is separate from the Israeli population. We are a part of it. Lapid's hatred toward us is stronger than the love Bennett holds for the Land of Israel, and his concern for the settlements, otherwise he would have realized that the cost of teaming up with Lapid is high for West Bank settlers. The alliance between the two would harm the camp that raises the banner against another disengagement, the camp that understands that security comes before peace. Bennet may be winning the battle, but he will lose the war. Habayit Hayehudi have sold its soul, its flag, and the very future of the settlements."
United Torah Judaism's Moshe Gafni also came out against Yesh Atid's stance on the ultra-Orthodox on Saturday: It's easy to say we don't hate the ultra-Orthodox, but to do everything in practice to harm the way of life, beliefs, outlook and conscience of the Haredi public. Lapid should learn a bit of history and discover that United Torah Judaism has been on the opposition for more years than it has been in the governing coalition. But our complaint is not against Yesh Atid, that unabashedly brandishes the banner of an anti-Haredi boycott, but toward its partners, who are on the receiving end of never-ending boycotts and have now joined Lapid's boycott against the Haredi public.
Referring to the possibility of the ultra-Orthodox parties relegated to the opposition, Lapid wrote on Facebook on Saturday that "no harm would come if they will not sit in the next government."