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Op-Ed: The Lapid-Bennett Alliance

Netanyahu needs them to form his coalition, says this writer.
Published: Friday, February 22, 2013 1:36 PM




The entry of Tzippi Livni’s Hatnua party into Netanyahu’s coalition-in-the-making and her prospective appointment as Justice Minister, as well as chief negotiator in the so-called peace process, has brought praise from the Palestinian Authority, from foreign leaders and from the Shas Party’s leader, Aryeh Deri, who has shared with her an affinity for the Oslo process of “land for peace”.

Because of this new development, Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) is faced with a serious dilemma – Does Bayit Yehudi enter the coalition as a token fig leaf for a left of center coalition that will destroy Jewish communities in Samaria and create a Palestinian state in Israel’s biblical heartland?

 In exchange for Netanyahu’s dangling carrot of desired government ministries, can the religious Zionist party forego progress on issues such as recreating the Zionist rabbinate, equalizing the burden of national service, and approving the Netanyahu-authorized Levy report that exposed the canard that Jews don’t have the legal right to build and live in the communities of Judea and Samaria?

While there is no question that there is influence to be gained by controlling government ministries, it’s just not enough. The rise of Bayit Yehudi from oblivion to a force in national politics as the fourth largest party in the Knesset was achieved because it’s idealistic message has been clear from the start, that the old corrupt politics are behind us. Without clear coalition guidelines that will prevent Livni from steering the peace process ship to Palestinian statehood, it will be very difficult for Bennett and company to have a real impact on foreign policy.

As for national service, the religious Zionist public has long carried a disproportionate burden of both Torah study and military service. This has been done proudly, but it’s time to end the needless hatred in Israeli society that is caused by the hareidi (ultra-Orthodox) public’s ignoring of its national responsibility. The clear Torah imperative of being prepared to go to war at age twenty should be for everyone, not just for the religious Zionists and the secular. Putting it off until age twenty-six across the hareidi board and then making service voluntary won’t reduce the resentment. The working goal should be creating an equal burden of national service, as well as spreading the learning of Torah, which is an inheritance for all of Israel, not just for the hareidim.

Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, as the second largest party in the new Knesset, has brought national service and other important domestic issues to the forefront of the coalition talks. While there are key differences between his views and those of the national religious public, he is more of a pragmatic centrist than a leftist and there is a lot of common ground. More importantly, Bennett has formed a valuable strategic alliance with Lapid, that neither party will enter the coalition without the other, a strategy that, if adhered to, will prevent Netanyahu from attaining a Knesset majority without their combined 31 seats, unless he relies on the far left and the Arab parties, certainly an unlikely scenario.

This Bennett-Lapid alliance has been a very wise strategy that will force Netanyahu’s Likud Beytenu to stop ignoring Bayit Yehudi and, personality issues aside, to address the real issues at hand. Portfolios will come afterwards. Expect the Bennett-Lapid alliance to be strengthened in the coming days and perhaps Netanyahu will be more forthcoming on coalition guidelines that may seem to have in them something for everybody, but will eventually have to recognize the potency of the Lapid-Bennett alliance and the size of their parties.

If that happens, the likely outcome will be a broad coalition that will include Likud Beytenu, Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi at its core, as well as Shas, who will enter as the sole hareidi party, along with a defanged Livni and Kadima – for grand total of 81 seats. If not, we will soon be heading for new elections.