Lieberman Capitulates to ultra-Orthodox Parties as Part of Coalition Negotiations

Yisrael Beiteinu deadlocks with Finance Ministry over conditions for joining government; as part of pending agreement, legislation on religion and state must garner support from all ultra-Orthodox parties to advance in Knesset.

Yisrael Beiteinu's chairman Avigdor Lieberman speaks at a conference at Sderot's Cinematheque, April 20, 2016.
Ilan Assayag

Yisrael Beiteinu has reached a dead end in its negotiations with the Finance Ministry over its conditions for joining the coalition, party chairman Avigdor Lieberman said Monday.

Part of the pending coalition agreement between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, obtained by Haaretz, reveals that a team will be established that will engage in legislation regarding matters of religion and state. It will be headed by Minister Yariv Levin and its roster will include people from all the coalition parties. Only proposals that garner the unanimous support of the ultra-Orthodox factions, Habayit Hayehudi, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu will be advanced in the Knesset.

If proposals are sponsored that are not in compliance with this accord, coalition members will vote against it, and coalition discipline will be enforced to ensure that the bills fail.

In talks about joining the government, Lieberman has capitulated to the ultra-Orthodox, agreeing to recruit members of Yisrael Beiteinu to help roll back previous legislation and vote against any new bills on religion and state that are proposed in the Knesset, unless the ultra-Orthodox parties provide permission in advance to support the laws. Not a few are of his own creation.

Among other things, the requirement to teach core curricula at ultra-Orthodox schools — as a condition for financial support from the state — will apparently be abolished.

Laws that were explicitly agreed upon in coalition agreements prior to establishment of the 34th government, between Likud and any other coalition party, and which are about to be legislated or are under discussion, are excepted from the need for the teams imprimatur. The coalition factions will support such bills as stated in their agreements.

Meamwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of his Likud party's Knesset members that negotiations are ongoing and that his goal remains to establish as broad a coalition as possible.

"There are always ups and downs in negotiations," the prime minister said of talks with Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu faction. "There will always be crises and door-slamming. The negotiations have not collapsed — they merely take time. I would advise everybody not to lose hope."

The conduct of the Finance Ministry is giving party members a bad feeling, Lieberman said, stressing that Yisrael Beiteinu will not forgo its requests regarding security, or its demands to increase pension stipends to immigrants from the Former Soviet Union. I am not negotiating, I am waiting for a good offer. Everything offered so far was unacceptable to us, he added.

Treasury Minister Moshe Kahlon, left, with Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, in the Knesset in 2015.
Olivier Fitoussi

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, speaking at a meeting of the Kulanu faction, said that "our proposal to Yisrael Beitenu is very fair. It isnt discriminatory or sector-based — it's given to the entire public."

"As finance minister I have the responsibility to safeguard the state budget in order to safeguard the Israeli economy," he added. "We wont allow any proposal that will cause an increase in inequality. When one sector receives and another sector doesnt — thats a surefire recipe for increasing gaps. The crowning glory of the Kulanu party is reducing social inequality, and its clear that we wont help them increase.

"Democracy is equal rights and everyone will receive this money: Jews, Arabs, the elderly, young people, veteran Israelis and new immigrants," said Kahlon. "As far as were concerned, thats the proposal on the table."

A Likud source said Monday that his party backs the demand that pension solutions be found for all immigrants who havent accrued 37 years of work in Israel — not only former residents of the FSU.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Naftali Bennett says he spoke with Netanyahu Sunday to demand a number of changes in the way the diplomatic-security cabinet operates, as a condition for supporting the addition of Yisrael Beiteinu to the coalition, and the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as defense minister.

Bennett claims he demanded the changes based on the lessons from Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip and the Second Lebanon War, when members of the cabinet had not been made privy to quality intelligence, were not prepared properly for doing their job and, therefore, did not function well when the crunch came.

The minister insists that a designated military attach be appointed for the cabinet members, to keep them abreast of security and defense affairs and to prepare them to do their job. Bennett also demands more fact-finding tours involving the ministers, and their easier access to information. He clarified that he views that demand as a basic need in order to prevent disinformation, and to enable proper monitoring of events for the sake of the security of the people of Israel, as is called for by law, and necessitated by the lessons learned from past failures.