Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman reportedly told members of his right-wing, secular party Tuesday that the Knesset’s two ultra-Orthodox parties will not at any point be part of the prospective unity government, despite assertions by senior coalition leaders that the Haredi slates are still welcome to join.
“It is not possible for the ultra-Orthodox to join the government. Anyone who claims that the ultra-Orthodox can be added to this government is deluding himself and others,” Liberman said at a faction meeting, according to a Wednesday Channel 12 report.
The comments appeared to have been directed at Yamina chairman and prime minister-designate Naftali Bennett, as well as Yesh Atid chairman and foreign minister-designate Yair Lapid, who have both insisted that they have not shut the door to a coalition with the Haredi parties, even though the prospective government currently has a majority of secular factions and no hardline religious ones.
Bennett, in particular, is believed to be interested in folding Shas and United Torah Judaism into his coalition in order to expand the bloc of right-wing parties.
However, Shas and UTJ leaders all but put to bed such a possibility at a Tuesday press conference where they launched a stunning assault on Bennett.
With the so-called change government set to be sworn in on Sunday and the ultra-Orthodox headed for the opposition for the first time since 2015, Haredi leaders branded Bennett “wicked” and claimed his new government’s policies would endanger the Jewish state.
Bennett, who is set to become Israel’s first Orthodox prime minister, dismissed the attack as embarrassing and unhinged, a “hysterical outburst,” and vowed he would safeguard religious life in the country.
According to Channel 12, Liberman went further during his Tuesday faction meeting, saying that he would demand a measures to establish a state commission of inquiry into the Meron disaster and another implementing a currently frozen deal to expand the pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Western Wall, to be introduced at the first cabinet meeting of the nascent government.
Both efforts are likely to further anger the ultra-Orthodox parties, which pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into walking back the government’s commitment to the so-called Kotel compromise in addition to vehemently opposing a high-level probe into the Meron disaster, which left 45 Haredi pilgrims dead in April. Critics have accused ultra-Orthodox lawmakers of blocking the inquiry due to fears that it might expose a corrupt decision-making process by the community’s leadership that allowed the tragedy to occur.
Separately on Wednesday, Channel 12 claimed to have exposed a hole in the coalition agreement between Lapid and Bennett, which would allow the Yamina chairman to break up the government before the Yesh Atid leader replaces him as prime minister in two years.
The current agreement — which won’t go into force until the government is sworn in — requires all 61 members of the Bennett-Lapid coalition to back legislation at the get-go that will enshrine into law the changing of the guard in two years. A similar law was passed in the first days of the previous government to ensure that Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz would replace Netanyahu after a year and a half. (Netanyahu exposed a different hole in their agreement that allowed the government to collapse if it failed to pass a budget and used it to topple the coalition before Gantz ever got a chance to become premier).
But that law passed by the Blue and White-Likud government needed 70 MKs to be overturned as 70 MKs had been part of the coalition that voted to back the legislation. Bennett and Lapid’s coalition, on the other hand, only amounts to a simple majority in the Knesset. Therefore only 61 MKs will be needed to cancel the legislation safeguarding the rotational agreement, Channel 12 said.
This could prove significant given that there are currently 65 right-wing MKs in the Knesset who would likely be willing to form a coalition together if Netanyahu steps aside as Likud leader, and they would be able to do just that by simply repealing the rotation-safeguarding law before Lapid is sworn in.
However, analysts note that the trust between Lapid and Bennett is far greater than that between Netanyahu and Gantz. Bennett has promised to abide by the agreement allowing Lapid to replace him in two years. Moreover, Yamina would likely perform poorly if elections are held again in the near future given that large swaths of the party’s supporters have opposed Bennett’s decision to form a unity government.
Also on Wednesday, Channel 13 reported that no major differences remain between the coalition’s eight parties and that all agreements between them are set to be signed on Thursday.
Haaretz reported that the unity government is planning to quickly pass a series of laws to shore up its coalition after its planned swearing-in on Sunday.
Among the proposed laws are ones that would make it easier for Likud MKs to break off from their party and that would prevent any members of the new coalition from serving in any other government formed during the 24th Knesset’s lifetime.
According to the report, a proposal to impose term limits on the prime minister won’t be pursued for the time being, due to disagreements between the various parties.
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