Shas, UTJ Gear Up for Coalition Talks


binyamin_netanyahu_2The chareidi parties in Israel, with whom Prime Minister-designate Binyomin Netanyahu will need to contend during the upcoming weeks of coalition negotiations, have announced they intend to pose considerable demands before agreeing to join any government under the Likud chairman. Sources from Shas – who will send lawyer David Glass and former National Insurance Institute Director-General Yohanan Shtesman to the negotiations – said yesterday that their party hopes to receive four ministerial posts, the same number as they held in the last Knesset.  Their ministries of choice are the Interior Ministry, the Constructions and Housing Ministry, the Ministry for Religious Affairs, and a ministerial post for chareidi education within the Education Ministry.

 That having been said, party representatives said that Shtesman and Glass would not bring up the cabinet position requests at the meeting but rather focus on general demands, foremost among them significantly increased child welfare stipends.

Likewise, representatives from Yahadus HaTorah-United Torah Judaism, who will send all five Knesset members to the meeting, said their party also does not intend to bring up ministerial demands at the meeting. Rather, they too will try to come to a general understanding of principles.  

Shas Chairman Eli Yishai
Shas Chairman Eli Yishai

According to UTJ sources, the party will demand a solution to the housing problem in the chareidi sector, a matter of particular concern for young couples, and request child support stipends for lower-income families. Additionally, they will ask for involvement of some sort in the issue of chareidi education and stress their political position that Yerushalayim must not be divided.

When asked about their desired posts, UTJ representatives said the party hoped to receive the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee, a deputy position in the Prime Minister’s Office dealing with land administration, deputy housing minister and deputy education minister.

Senior Likud officials said that, in their estimation, parties would receive about one ministerial post per Knesset member, with Likud members receiving an above average number of posts. The party has not yet begun discussions on the allocation of specific posts, they said.  

“We have to get a government together first, within the first 28 days. The economic situation necessitates the government be established very quickly,” said MK Gideon Sa’ar, head of the Likud’s coalition negotiation team.

“Alongside the talks, we’ll be meeting with (Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi) Livni and (Labor Chairman Ehud) Barak. At this point, they have not agreed to set up negotiation teams,” he told Ynet. The Likud will only be meeting with right-wing groups at first, although Netanyahu has already offered Livni and Barak a broad coalition that would likely be far more centrist in nature. Both have so far rejected the offer.  

Sa’ar said he believes it’s possible to sort out the differences between the different parties.

“Already during this first week since elections, we’ve spoke with five right-wing factions and focused on bridging the gaps on religious and governmental-political issues. I believe we can bridge these gaps,” he said.

Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman has already taken a step towards relieving the tensions with religious groups by announcing that his party’s demands to separate issues of religion and state – foremost among them the issue of civil marriage – would be moved to the bottom of the group’s list of priorities.

{Yair Israel/Yediot Achronot}