Report: Jewish Home Presents Social, Economic Demands to Likud
Negotiations continued Tuesday between the Likud and the Jewish Home Party over the possible entry of the latter into a coalition being cobbled together by Binyamin Netanyahu. The negotiations have been going on for the past few days, with Jewish Home MKs presenting what they expected from a government that they would agree to be a part of.
The discussions have revolved around issues such as negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and the role of Tzipy Livni as head of those negotiations, as well as the extent of integration of the hareidi yeshiva population into the IDF.
But the party has a long list of social and economic issues it is interested in as well. A report in business newspaper Calcalist Tuesday outlined some of those issues, from laws requiring that the holdings of “tycoons” be limited, to instituting Sunday as an official day off in place of Friday.
A recent law passed by the Knesset requires Israel's largest holding companies to divest themselves of certain assets, spinning them off in order to make the economy more competitive. Originally, the Treasury gave the “tycoons,” the heads of these holding companies, four years to divest their interests in order to comply with the law. According to reports, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz extended that period to six years. According to the Calcalist report, Jewish Home negotiators are demanding that the divestment period be restored to four years, and that this deadline be a part of their coalition agreement.
Another issue the party insists be dealt with is implementation of the “Open Skies” policy, ostensibly adopted by the government last year but not yet implemented. The policy would open up Israel's markets to more airlines, increasing competition and hopefully lowering the cost of flying. The Transport Ministry has been slow to implement the policy out of fear that it could damage Israeli carriers El Al and Israir. Jewish Home wants this implemented as well, but Calcalist reported that Likud negotiators have so far adamantly refused.
Another reform Jewish Home seeks is the redrawing of municipal boundaries in many towns, with the objective of including in the towns peripheral areas, such as shopping districts, that are now not part of the cities and towns they serve, and thus do not pay municipal taxes, especially arnona real estate taxes. Such a move would enhance the finances of fiscally weak municipalities and local councils. Another proposal would see the enhancement of the Postal Bank, allowing it to offer interest on deposits.
This was opposed by Bank of Israel Chairman Stanley Fischer, who feared the Postal Bank would compete with commercial banks, but Jewish Home MKs believe that with Fischer retiring, the government will support this proposal. It is expected that the Postal Bank, which operates as a “social project” geared for Israelis who do not have sufficient funds to bank with commercial banks, would offer better terms for deposits.
In addition, Jewish Home is seeking advancement of legislation that would set aside Sunday as an official day off at government offices, banks, and other institutions, instead of Friday. The Sunday as a day off plan has long been advocated by the National Religious Party and its political descendants as a way to enhance observance of Shabbat, with the theory being that if secular Israelis could dedicate Sunday to leisure, shopping, and other activities, they would be more amenable to Sabbath observance.
The report said that the Likud representatives listened to the Jewish Home's coalition demands patiently, but did not commit to any of them.