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Netanyahu in a jam: Haredim or Lapid and Bennett?

Analysis: Will prime minister be courageous enough to end sacred alliance with ultra-Orthodox parties?

Published: 02.04.13, 23:42 / Israel Opinion

Only two days have passed since the coalition talks officially began, and Prime Minister Netanyahu has already found himself in a jam. Despite the election results, which indicated that part of the Israeli public is fed up with haredi politics, Netanyahu is finding it difficult to detach himself from the sacred alliance with the parties that made him prime minister twice – in 1996 and 2009.

 

Netanyahu trusts the haredim; he knows they will not try to topple him or run against him, as opposed to Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, who consider themselves the future leaders of the country.

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The alliance between Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox is not ideological. It is functional; practical. Netanyahu knows the haredi parties won’t give him any trouble. They are not built for coalition crises and resignations. Being a part of the coalition is their bread and butter, because only there will they be able to receive what they promised their voters in the elections. The ultra-Orthodox parties do not really exist if they sit in the opposition.

 

In light of his predicament, Netanyahu turned to his rival Tzipi Livni and offered her to join the government. Livni did not rule it out. She wants to be there; to get a ministerial portfolio and deal with the diplomatic process. Actually, it is safe to say that Hatnua will do everything to be a part of the next coalition.

 

In talks with Netanyahu's negotiators, Livni's representatives demanded that the next government advance the peace negotiations and that Livni be placed in charge of the negotiations on the government's behalf. Hatnua members have confirmed that Netanyahu and Livni are also secretly negotiating through mediators, including Avigdor Lieberman, in order to reach an agreement that would see the party join the next coalition.

 

On the other hand, Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi are ambitious parties. Their leaders are looking to the future. The prime minister is well aware of this, and he is concerned.

 

"Wherever I go people tell me one thing: 'Anyone but Shas',"a senior Yesh Atid member said regarding the possibility of establishing a government without Shas. "The public has had enough of them. The past four years were very bad for Shas. The party was severely hurt by the Carmel fire fiasco, by its opposition to an equal share of the burden – the reason why early elections were held – as well as by its religious rigidity. Israelis do not want Shas in the government."

 

Lapid did not budge an inch

Such remarks motivate Yesh Atid's leaders to confront the haredim and not back down from its demand for a universal draft. Habayit Hayehudi's leaders jumped on the bandwagon and leveled harsh criticism at Shas.

 

Netanyahu, as stated, does not want to part with his natural partners - the haredim. During a meeting between Netanyahu and Habayit Hayehudi's representatives on Sunday, the prime minister's reps asked Bennett's people to reach an understanding with Lapid. 'Lapid's plan is problematic,' Netanyahu's representatives said, 'try to talk to him. If you reach an understanding, we can move forward.' Habayit Hayehudi's reps denied the request. 'You reach an understanding with Lapid,' they told Netanyahu's people.

 

Last week a Shas official told Ynet that Netanyahu had tried to reach a compromise with Lapid on the universal draft issue even before the coalition negotiations began, but all of the prime minister's representatives returned empty-handed. Lapid did not budge an inch and did not agree to any deal that was offered.

 

It is too soon to determine what the next government will look like, but if Netanyahu wants to head it, he cannot give up on Yesh Atid. A rightist-haredi coalition is possible only on paper. Netanyahu does not want to be in a position where he is dependent solely on the haredim in a government of 61 Knesset members. Lapid and Bennett understand that if they compromise on their principles, their constituents will not forgive them. This is why they are coordinating their positions. There is no sacred alliance between Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi, but both parties want a government without the haredim.

 

It remains to be seen whether Netanyahu will have the courage to give up on those who kept him in power over the past four years and form a coalition that reflects the wishes of the voting public.

 

 

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