Israel – Netanyahu Strike Coalition Deal Excluding Ultra-Religious

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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a farewell event for outgoing Defence Minister Ehud Barak at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv March 13, 2013. REUTER/Baz RatnerJerusalem – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached an agreement Thursday to form a new coalition government that is expected to try to curb years of preferential treatment for the country’s ultra-Orthodox minority and may push for restarting peace efforts with Palestinians.

The new coalition will be the first in a decade to exclude ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties. It includes two new rising stars in Israeli politics who have vowed to end a controversial system of draft exemptions and generous welfare subsidies granted to tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox seminary students.

“The next term will be one of the most challenging in the history of the state,” Netanyahu told his Likud-Yisrael Beitenu parliamentary faction Thursday, shortly before the deal was to be signed. “We are facing great security and diplomatic challenges.”

Significant progress on the peace front could prove to be more difficult than the other domestic issues, given bitter disagreements among coalition members as well as deep differences with the Palestinians.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu’s senior partner, the centrist Yesh Atid party, is vowing to at least make an effort to restart negotiations. The peace process remained frozen throughout Netanyahu’s previous four-year term, when his right-wing bloc partnered with other hard-line and ultra-Orthodox factions.

“We have to begin talks with the Palestinians immediately. We need to sit at the negotiation table. We haven’t sat there for four years,” said Yael German of Yesh Atid, who is expected to serve as the new health minister. “Let’s sit and proceed toward a peace agreement. It is essential,” she told Army Radio.

After weeks of deadlock, Netanyahu wrapped up coalition negotiations overnight with Yesh Atid and the Jewish Home, a party aligned with West Bank settlers.

The deal was expected to be signed later in the day, and the new government should be sworn in on Monday, just two days before Barack Obama is to arrive for his first visit as U.S. president.

Although Netanyahu’s bloc emerged as the biggest faction in the Jan. 22 election with 31 seats, he struggled to form a coalition with the necessary 61-seat majority in the 120-member parliament. His new coalition is expected to control 68 seats.

The negotiations stalled over several thorny issues, including the division of key Cabinet portfolios and plans to reform the draft.

The ultra-Orthodox make up about 10 percent of Israel’s 8 million citizens. Through the coalition government system, they have traditionally wielded disproportionate influence by ensuring a parliamentary majority for a string of prime ministers.

With the exception of a three-year period in the early 2000s, they have served in every government since the late 1970s.

The ultra-Orthodox parties used their kingmaker status to secure vast budgets for their religious schools and seminaries, which teach students about Judaism but very little math, English or science.

Tens of thousands of young ultra-Orthodox males are granted exemptions from military service in order to pursue their religious studies, and older men collect welfare stipends while continuing to study full time.

The system has led to high rates of unemployment and poverty in the ultra-Orthodox community. It also has bred widespread resentment among the secular and modern Orthodox publics.

Both Yesh Atid and Jewish Home appealed to voters by calling to end the contentious system. Forming a joint front in coalition talks, they forced Netanyahu to drop his plans to bring the ultra-Orthodox, his traditional partners, back into the coalition.

Lapid, who leads the second-largest party in parliament with 19 seats, is set to serve as the new finance minister with great influence over the budget. His party will also control the Education Ministry. With these two ministries, he is likely to curb funding to ultra-Orthodox schools and institutions.

Netanyahu’s bloc will retain control of the key defense and interior ministries, giving his group the final say in military matters and over immigration policy.

Social issues weighed heavy in the election and campaign promises to improve lives for the middle class benefited both Lapid and Jewish Home’s leader Naftali Bennett.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets in the summer of 2011 to demonstrate against the gaps between rich and poor, low wages and skyrocketing housing prices.

But the two parties take far different approaches to peacemaking with the Palestinians. Lapid has vowed to make a serious effort to reach peace. Yet his campaign made little mention of the issue, focusing heavily on his social and economic agenda, and critics have questioned his commitment.

Bennett, meanwhile, is a former leader of the West Bank settlement movement and opposes concessions to the Palestinians. He has even called for Israel to annex large chunks of the West Bank, the heartland of any future Palestinian state.

His nationalist party supports building settlements, citing biblical and historic reasons. With control of the Housing Ministry, it will have the budgets to promote new settlement construction.

Despite these disagreements, there could be room for optimism on peace.

After presiding over four years of deadlock and suffering international isolation over the issue, Netanyahu has signaled he is eager to restart negotiations with the Palestinians under his new government.

He has appointed Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister who now leads a small, dovish party, to serve as his chief negotiator. Livni has good working relations with the Palestinians.

Yet Netanyahu – who has been prime minister for seven years in two previous terms – has given no indication about whether he is prepared to make significant concessions to the Palestinians.

The Palestinians demand all of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war from Jordan, for a future state. They have demanded a freeze in settlement construction and a commitment to make Israel’s 1967 lines the basis for a future border.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the Palestinians would have “no problem” talking to Lapid or Livni.

“But if we want to negotiate with the Israelis, the government should accept the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders and implement its obligations like the settlement freeze,” he said.

The Obama visit could provide an opportunity to search for a new formula for negotiations. Obama will be meeting separately with both sides while he is in the region. But he has already said he is not planning a new peace initiative.

Netanyahu struggled to form a coalition, and required an extra two-week extension to wrap up the deal. Had he not formed a coalition by Saturday, the country could have been forced to hold a new election.

Netanyahu is likely to face many disgruntled members in his own Likud Party, which was forced to give up key Cabinet posts to appease Lapid.

Zeev Elkin, a Likud lawmaker, accused Lapid of “extortion.”

“There is no other expression to describe it,” he told Israel Radio.

Arieh Deri, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, told Army radio that he will join a fighting opposition.

“Our first mission is to topple this government,” he said.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Finally a coalition without the blackmaillers:

    Shehecheyanu. V’Kimanu. V’higeelanu, bazman Hazeh
    Zeh HaYom Asah HaShem Nagelliah v’Nismichu Vo!

  2. There are blackmailers in the government as this is politics or should I say excluding the Chareidim (his natural partner because the don’t look for ministries)was Bibi being blackmailed so form the government.

    • But that is politics and not with just the Chareidim it is also with the non religious parties as well that is why Bibi almost drop Lapid and Bennet. Also not everybody votes for their own interests

    • As IF the others are in leShem Shomayim! Wake up and smell the coffee, this is what politicians are all about. However, you vote for the “lesser of the evil” and that one is clear not Lapid nor Bennet!

  3. Bibi recognizes that the charedim in Israel are a considerable percentage of the overall population and so a force to be respected.

    However, both the Prime Minister and the charedi askanim know that respect is a two-way street.

    The reason for the non-inclusion if charedim in the new government is simply that they want this “street” to be one-way only. In other words, their leaders are only too pleased to take, take, take and take again but they refuse indomitably to give anything in return.

    Is it any surprise, therefore, that Bibi has given up on the charedim and decided to move on with forming an administration to govern the country? As the kids say, “They had their chance – and they blew it!”

  4. Rabbosai,
    What’s up with this Chareidi bashing!! The only reason that this country is still around is because of the Chareidim. So they’re not always perfect but at least they strive to be. The rest of these politicians are one step of earning the suffix of Shem Reshoim…

  5. דברו דבר ולא יקום. אלה ברכב וכו’ ואנחנו קמנו ונתעודד וכו

    The world was created for Torah and neither Lapid nor Bennet fit that description, Shas, and Agudah do.

    Many of those commenting need to ask themselves what is their future in Judaism, jumping on the band wagon of those of have historically failed. Only Torah Jews have succeeded to stay committed with time, the rest were not rooted and fell to the sidelines.

    All the arguments against Chreidim are old, very old. We were always accused of being primitive and not contributive to society. Just 70 years ago Hitler ralied his troops against us saying the exact same and accusing us of milking soicety. The Romans used that as excuse as well, so did Haman and almost every one of our enemies. Did you ever ask why the chilonim dont serve “Hashem”, VIA the the commands he has suscribed in the Torah, who gives them health, food and shelter, now who are the real thieves?

    On whose side are you?

  6. Finally, a coalition that wants to concentrate on important matters
    Expansion of settlements
    Strengthening the economy
    And make an “effort” for peace without giving away important and strategic land

  7. As usual, our press will put it down the fact that Israelis don’t realize the importance of learning Torah, or the importance of mizvoh, and that Yair Lapid hates Charedim. Nothing could be further from the truth. In this election campaign, i heard nothing from Yair Lapid that he hates or disrespect Chardeim, unlike his father, he has reached out to frum people, and even has some of the in his party. AS frum people, we have to take responsibly for the image we portray to the outside world. What people are saying is that Charedim get a lot from the state, but give nothing in return. We dont respect Isarel, we dont stand a moment of silence when they are silent. We have to change this image. This change can only begin once we realize that we are the cause of this bad image.

    • Chilonim, have to change their image, as well. They need to start their morning with a few “moments in silence”, we call that “Tefilah”. They need to change the image that they portray, “they get a lot from Hashem”, but giving nothing in return. No Torah!

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