Talks between Likud-Beytenu and the Jewish Home party ended abruptly on Friday, with a top negotiator declaring that Naftali Bennett’s national-religious faction opposed the inclusion of the ultra-Orthodox parties in the next government.
“The Jewish Home party wants Haredim excluded from the next coalition exactly like Yesh Atid wants them excluded,” Likud’s chief negotiator, attorney David Shimron said after the meeting at the Kfar Maccabiah Hotel in Ramat Gan.
Sources in Jewish Home rejected Shimron’s comments: “There appears to have been a mistake in [Shimron’s] statement that we said, ‘we want to exclude Haredis.’ He mistakenly left out the word ‘don’t.’ After reports of Likud’s comments about evacuating the settlements and the problematic agreement with Tzipi Livni and Amir Peretz, it seems that this isn’t the only mistake,” they told Maariv.
On Thursday, Shimron said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was still committed to forming as wide a coalition as possible, rebuffing what he said were calls by Yesh Atid to leave the Haredi Shas and United Torah Judaism in the opposition.
Netanyahu is expected to turn to President Shimon Peres on Saturday night to ask for a 14-day extension to form a government; if he cannot do so by March 16, Peres may invite another politician to try. If all else fails, new elections would eventually be called.
Earlier Friday, it looked as though Likud-Beytenu (31 seats) was willing to amend its agreement with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua (6) as part of the bid to bring Jewish Home (12) and Yesh Atid (19) into the coalition, according to a report in Maariv.
Last week, Hatnua became the only party thus far to join Netanayhu’s nascent government, doing so on the condition that it receive two ministries and that Livni, a former foreign minister, would head negotiations with Palestinians.
But Netanyahu was said to be ready to revoke some of those agreements in the hope of wooing Jewish Home and Yesh Atid.
Both parties, which have partnered up in coalition talks, have expressed reservations about the deal Netanyahu made with Livni, specifically regarding negotiations with the Palestinians.
“Netanyahu does not intend to form a narrow government with [Naftali] Bennett and [Yair] Lapid,” Shimron had said prior to a meeting with Yesh Atid party officials on Thursday. “We are continuing our efforts to form a broad coalition which would include the ultra-Orthodox parties, the Jewish Home party, and we hope it would include the Yesh Atid party and Kadima as well.”
Earlier on Thursday, Eli Yishai, one of the political leaders of Shas (11 seats), acknowledged that his party would in all probability be left out of Netanyahu’s emergent coalition. Yishai launched a blistering attack on Lapid and Bennett, saying the alliance between the two party leaders was forged solely with an eye toward harming the ultra-Orthodox community. The second ultra-Orthodox party, United Torah Judaism (7), shares Shas’s opposition to the drafting of most ultra-Orthodox men into the army or alternative national service – as demanded by Jewish Home and Yesh Atid.
It is this issue that has complicated Netanyahu’s coalition-building efforts, leaving him unable to date to muster a majority government in the 120-member Knesset.