This coalition ain´t big enough for the both of us (JERUSALEM POST) By LAHAV HARKOV 02/23/12)
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The government’s three senior ministers – Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Defense Minister
Ehud Barak – all scrambled to announce that they will propose
alternatives to the Tal Law, a day after the High Court declared it
Meanwhile, United Torah Judaism and Shas have mostly kept mum on the
subject, but are clearly unhappy with possible changes in the so-
called “status quo.” The “status quo” is a term for the balance of
Jewish religious elements in Israeli democracy – including marriage
and divorce according to Halacha, as well as the exemption of women
and many Torah scholars from military service. The “status quo” is
also part of the coalition agreement, as Shas and UTJ have the power
to veto any bill or policy that may change it.
Who will win? Are winds of change blowing, or will the status quo
stand strong? Or, will the clash between them topple the current
government? The real question is: How long can Netanyahu balance
Israel Beiteinu on one hand, and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties on
the other? After weeks of talk about whether Netanyahu would call
early elections, the date of this government’s demise – whether by
the prime minister’s choice or coalition crisis – seems clearer than
ever: July, as the Tal Law’s August 1 expiration date nears.
Two weeks ago, this government passed the three-year mark, something
that has not occurred in two decades. Most of the coalition’s parties
are committed to staying together and working out issues from within –
each for its own reasons, of course.
At the same time, it seems like the coalition is living out the
Western cliché: This town ain’t big enough for the two of us.
Each party is pulling in a different direction and the chasm between
Israel Beiteinu and United Torah Judaism and Shas seems to be wider
Liberman seems confident that he will get his way, congratulating the
High Court for adopting Israel Beiteinu’s platform following their
decision on the Tal Law.
“I think everyone understands, both in the coalition and the
opposition, that there’s no other way,” Liberman said on Wednesday
At the same time, Israel Beiteinu held a conference on Tuesday about
changing the system of government, in which Deputy Foreign Minister
Danny Ayalon emphasized over and over again that stability is a
priority for the party.
In fact, nearly any time Israel Beiteinu has opposed coalition
parties – usually Shas and UTJ – on an issue, either Liberman or
Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov has asserted the party’s power as
the “senior coalition partner,” while saying that they are also a
responsible partner that finds working within the coalition more
effective than breaking it up.
Also, with recent polls showing Liberman’s party weakening slightly,
calling elections at this juncture would put them at a disadvantage,
which could be overcome by a creative new solution for “sharing the
burden equally,” as Israel Beiteinu puts it.
Barak is less of a player in this game, as his party is unlikely to
pass the elections threshold, and leaving the coalition would only
hurt Independence. Plus, the party was seemingly founded for the
express reason of allowing its leader to remain defense minister
while other Labor members could join the opposition.
If they learn from recent experience, the haredi parties probably
only have what to gain by remaining in the coalition. After all, Shas
basically won the affordable housing battle, despite outrage by
Israel Beiteinu and Independence.
Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias and Netanyahu agreed
on a system in which those who served in the IDF receive more points.
However, the ultra-orthodox are still more likely to qualify for
affordable housing, because of additional points for each child and
each year of marriage.
Therefore, Shas and UTJ are likely to buy time until July, when they
can enrage their coalition partners by using their right to veto
bills involving religion, or even leave the coalition because it
favors drafting haredim.
Where is Habayit Hayehudi in all of this? Party leader Science and
Technology Minister Daniel Herschkowitz presented a lukewarm speech
on the issue in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday, making it glaringly
obvious that the Tal Law is not their priority.
Finally, we have Netanyahu and Likud, who have to keep the team
together. The prime minister has almost succeeded in striking a
balance between ultra- Orthodox parties and Israel Beiteinu, though
the housing issue is a glaring exception, since Israel Beiteinu MK
Faina Kirschenbaum is bringing Attias’s policy to the High Court. How
long can Netanyahu play both sides? After all, the prime minister
does not seem excited about the prospect of dissolving the coalition
early when the government is so strong and long-lasting, though some
of his senior advisers are telling him to do so.
That is why waiting until July is his best bet. He only stands to
gain political points in the next elections by standing up to
haredim – and that standoff is set to take place this summer. (© 1995-
2011, The Jerusalem Post 02/23/12)
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