Prime Minister Netanyahu has yet to give up on his desire to break the alliance between Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi and include the haredi parties in his next government. But most of all, he has not given up on his right to try yet another trick.
As time is running out, just before he has to ask President Peres to extend the deadline for forming a government by two weeks, the prime minister decided to fire in all directions. The goal: To divide Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid. The means: Turning Yesh Atid into another Shinui by turning the religious Zionist rabbis against the "haters of religious people and religion."
On Thursday morning it appeared as though Netanyahu finally understood that he has no choice but to include both Lapid and Bennett in the next coalition. To placate Bennett and also show that he is not ruling out Yesh Atid, Yesh Atid's negotiators were invited to a meeting with Likud's representatives.
A number of issues were discussed during the three-hour meeting. A large portion of the meeting was dedicated to trying to determine whether Yesh Atid is ruling out the possibility of sitting in a government alongside the haredi parties. "We are not ruling out Shas," Lapid's people explained, "But Shas would not agree to some of the things we want." Likud got the hint and took it one step forward: It decided to turn Yesh Atid into Shinui, a party that was despised by religious and haredi Israelis.
David Shomron, Netanyahu's representative, launched the first attack in front of the cameras. "Yesh Atid does not want to sit with the haredim," he announced. Shortly thereafter, Likud's MKs and ministers also released statements, one after the other, to political correspondents. Some of the statements were aimed at portraying Yesh Atid as being anti-religious, while others were meant to apply pressure on the religious Zionist public before Shabbat.
Will their alliance hold? Bennett (L) and Lapid (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
The weekend is the best time to rile up the religious public. The weekend newspapers, the articles, the discussions at synagogue – all these can create a tense atmosphere that will create immense pressure on Bennett and the rest of Habayit Hayehudi's members. Up until now the religious Zionist rabbis have kept silent and allowed Bennett to run the political game. Netanyahu and his people hope the situation will change after the current blitz and that the rabbis will dissolve the Bennett-Lapid alliance.
Yesh Atid has decided that for the time being it will not counter with its own spin, but Rabbi Shay Piron was livid and explained on his Facebook page that the party was not against the haredim. Piron's message was relayed to Shomron, to make certain he was aware of Yesh Atid's anger over his attempt to slander it in order to break the alliance with Habayit Hayehudi.
Meanwhile, Habayit Hayehudi's members have decided to stay the course and tell Likud representatives during a meeting Friday that while they are not ruling out the haredi parties, they will join the coalition only if Yesh Atid joins as well.
The next 48 may be critical for the negotiations. Should the religious Zionist rabbis continue to support Bennett, then Likud's spin will be futile. But if they won't, a whole new political game will begin Sunday.
Another possibility is that Likud's assault on Yesh Atid is meant to show Shas that it has done all it can to drive a wedge between Lapid and Bennett. Now that this strategy has apparently failed, Likud will be able to apologize to the haredim and tell them that it is forming a coalition with Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi – but without them. Yesh Atid, by the way, believes Netanyahu will eventually give up. "A little more pressure and he'll cave," a senior party official said.
In coalition negotiations where people use the threat of canceling US President Obama's upcoming visit as a facilitator for establishing the next government – anything is possible.