In Last-minute Hitch, Habayit Hayehudi Refuses to Sign Coalition Agreement

Israel's new government expected to be sworn in Monday; universal IDF draft a top priority; Ze'ev Elkin in line to become deputy foreign minister.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Naftal Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi balked on Thursday at signing the coalition agreement with Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu upon learning that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not plan to make Bennett and Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid deputy prime ministers.

Likud said the third Netanyahu government would not have any deputy or vice prime ministers titles that confer no extra benefits or responsibilities. But Bennett insisted that this decision violated an understanding with his party.

If Netanyahu stays firm, his new government would be the first in 50 years without a deputy prime minister.

In any case, Likud sources denied that the dispute threatened the formation of the new government. “We’re not at all worried. The coalition isn’t in danger. New elections aren’t in the offing,” said a senior Likud source.

“Do you think Habayit Hayehudi is going to give up all its achievements just because the prime minister decided there would be no deputy prime ministers in the current term? Bennett is going to be the industry, trade and labor minister, Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs minister and religious services minister. What, he’s going to be bothered if he’s not called deputy prime minister?”

The extension that President Shimon Peres granted Netanyahu to form a government expires tomorrow night. If Netanyahu does not come to final understandings by then, Peres can give another MK a chance to form a coalition or recommend new elections.

Yesh Atid yesterday revealed a series of understandings it had reached in its coalition agreement with the joint slate of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu. It was agreed that the government submit a universal draft law to the Knesset even before the 2013 budget is passed; that the core curriculum be made mandatory for all Israeli pupils within two and a half years; that a housing cabinet headed by the incoming finance minister, Lapid, be formed to implement Yesh Atid’s plans to develop rental housing; and that more funding be allocated for Holocaust survivors.

At a Likud faction meeting, outgoing Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein was chosen as the party’s candidate to serve as the next Knesset speaker. He is expected to be elected easily next week. Edelstein would replace fellow Likud MK Reuven Rivlin, who lost Netanyahu’s support to stay at the post.

It still isn’t clear why the prime minister has ousted Rivlin, who is considered one of the country’s most popular politicians and has wide backing in the Knesset. Rivlin wants to succeed Peres as Israel’s president, and it’s unclear whether Netanyahu would back Rivlin for that position when Peres’ term ends in a year and a half, or whether Netanyahu’s dropping him as speaker indicates he prefers someone else.

Rivlin said that despite Netanyahu’s attitude toward him, he has no plans to act as a fifth column in Likud. “I intend to continue to act as an MK, in accordance with the mission I was entrusted with,” he said. “I will do what’s good for the State of Israel, and what’s good for my party.”

During the faction meeting, Netanyahu practically apologized to his colleagues for the fact that many of them would not get the cabinet positions they had hoped for if they get positions at all.

“We did the best we could. We took back the defense portfolio and of course retained the foreign affairs portfolio. Those are the key portfolios for running the country,” he said.

“We also kept a number of other central portfolios. There’s a stockpile of responsible positions that will enable us to do things, but on one condition that we have a clear majority in the cabinet,” which the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu alliance will have.

It also emerged from the meeting that outgoing coalition chairman Zeev Elkin will be appointed deputy foreign minister. He is expected to serve as acting foreign minister until the outcome of former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s breach of trust trial is known.

Though the coalition is not finalized, Labor Party chief Shelly Yacimovich, who is expected to head the opposition, wished the new government success.

“Your success is our success,” Yacimovich wrote of the new government, adding that “I promise that we will be responsible and governmental and will support, without political considerations, any social, economic, diplomatic or civil move the government makes for the benefit of the country.”

Meretz chief Zahava Gal-On said the expected new government was one in which the settlers had taken control of the main economic power centers.

“Entrusting the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, the Housing Ministry and the Knesset Finance Committee to Habayit Hayehudi means the economy will be totally subordinated to continuing the extensive financial benefits that the settlers enjoy at the expense of the rest of Israeli society.”

Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett.Credit: AP
Netanyahu, right, and Lieberman at a Likud-Beiteinu faction meeting on March 14, 2013.Credit: Emil Salman
The expected composition of Israel's new government. Credit: Haaretz

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