A statement by a senior Shas minister on Sunday indicates that Israel's ultra-Orthodox parties are moving closer to joining the opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s possible coalition, in light of the crisis in ties with the nationalist Habayit Hayehudi party.
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“We are going to walk all over the settlements, we’re not afraid. We’ll vote to evacuate outposts, we’ll vote to freeze construction, we’ll support diplomatic initiatives, we’ll vote to cut funding to the settlements,” the senior Shas official told Haaretz.
On Saturday, President Peres granted Netanyahu two more weeks to form Israel's next government, after failing to negotiate a parliamentary majority in the 28-day timeframe he was given by the president after winning the January elections. The prime minister hinted to Peres on Saturday that the blame behind the delay lies with Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid, and Habayi Hayehudi's Naftali Bennett, who have formed an alliance, and who it seems will not agree to join a government that includes ultra-Orthodox parties.
On Sunday afternoon, Netanyahu met with the Shas leadership, outgoing Housing Minister Ariel Atias, outgoing Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Aryeh Deri – the first face-to-face meeting with the Shas triumvirate since the election. According to Shas officials, Netanyahu accused Habayit Hayehudi chairman MK Naftali Bennett of creating a political entanglement that will not allow Shas to enter to coalition. However, Shas officials said they had the impression that Netanyahu’s efforts in the coming days would focus on Labor chairwoman MK Shelly Yacimovich rather than on splitting up the alliance between Bennett and the Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid.
“Netanyahu is willing to do a lot to persuade Yacimovich to come in,” a Shas official said.
Despite the lack of mutuality in the relationship – Yacimovich has frequently expressed objection to Deri’s criminal past – Shas is hanging its hopes on the Labor Party whether as its partner either in the coalition, or the opposition, the latter a more likely scenario.
While moving closer to Labor, Shas is speaking out more sharply against Habayit Hayehudi and the settlement movement. The battle between the parties is not only for political power. Rather, since the election it has become ideological, after Shas spiritual leader called Habayit Hayehudi – whose name means “the Jewish home,” – “home of goyim,” that is, non-Jews. There are ideological questions on the table now, like who the authentic representative of the “world of Torah” is, the question of which yeshiva students should be considered full-time students, and others.
The ultra-Orthodox have for a generation acted like the natural partners of the right; Shas chairman Yishai has turned the party into a right-wing party. But they are taking leftist stands. “When Yair Lapid asks where the money is” – a senior Shas figure said, referring to one of Yesh Atid’s campaign slogans – “we’ll tell him it’s in the settlements. From our point of view this is an unnecessary expense.” His remarks came at the same time MK Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism was threatening that “the rift cannot be healed” between the ultra-Orthodox and the nationalist Orthodox. Another figure in Shas said that the current rift “releases us from all our obligations to Habayit Hayehudi.”
The harsh tone the ultra-Orthodox are taking toward Habayit Hayehudi became even more strident following a letter of support for Bennett’s political maneuvers from the rabbis of the Tekumah faction of the Orthodox nationalist former National Union party. In recent weeks Shas had been trying to drive a wedge between Bennett and these conservative rabbis, including the militant Rabbi Dov Lior of the settlement of Kiryat Arba. However, the letter of unqualified support for the Habayit Hayehudi chairman shows that its efforts have failed.