Foreign Minister Yair Lapid declared on Saturday night that his government remained committed to implementing the Western Wall deal, which was meant to provide non-Orthodox movements with their own proper prayer space and full recognition at the holy site in Jerusalem.
Speaking in northern Israel at a gathering of Yesh Atid activists, the party chairman denied reports that the government had resolved not to move ahead with plans to revive the deal so as not to play into the hands of the opposition. Both the Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties believe the Western Wall deal is an issue that can mobilize their supporters.
“We have not frozen anything,” Lapid, who also serves as Israel’s alternate prime minister, said in response to a question from a party activist about the status of the deal. “We are pushing very hard for this deal and will not give up on it, but there’s a process, and such processes are sometimes difficult. And there is an attempt being made to turn this into a religion-and-state war in Israel.”
The deal, which had been approved by the government headed by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in January 2016 was suspended a year-and-a-half later under pressure from his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.
Rakefet Ginsberg, the executive director of the Conservative-Masorti movement in Israel, welcomed Lapid’s remarks, saying: “We await the speedy implementation of the Western Wall deal, so as to avoid violence and bloodshed."
“Not always do things happen at the pace I would want, but until now, we have a good record in making things happen,” Lapid assured the crowd. His party, Yesh Atid, is the largest faction in the government.
Most of the parties in the current coalition support the revival of the deal. Indeed, it had been assumed that the issue would be brought to the cabinet soon after the budget was approved early last month, but that has yet to happen. Several members of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party – chief among them Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana – have been reluctant to push it through now.
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In recent weeks, both President Isaac Herzog and Cabinet Secretary Shalom Shlomo have met with representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements in an effort to reach a compromise that might be acceptable to opponents of the deal.
Lapid said it was “inconceivable that Israel would be the only country in the world without freedom of religion for Jews.”