PM makes 'no progress' in talks with Shas, nixes UTJ meeting

Coalition talks with haredi partners fail to reach breakthrough as Netanyahu prepares for talks with Liberman ahead of next week's deadline.

David Rosenberg ,

Yaakov Litzman (l) and Aryeh Deri (r)
Yaakov Litzman (l) and Aryeh Deri (r)
Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

A meeting planned between the Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and representatives of the United Torah Judaism party was cancelled Wednesday, after a meeting between Netanyahu and Shas party chairman Aryeh Deri failed to achieve a breakthrough a week before the deadline for forming a new coalition government.

Facing a May 29th deadline for securing support from 61 MKs for a new governing coalition, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s negotiating team has met repeatedly with representatives of the two haredi factions – Shas and United Torah Judaism – and the Yisrael Beytenu party over the past week in a bid to reach a compromise over core issues of religion and state which will enable both sides to enter the next government.

Netanyahu’s haredi partners have pushed for the Likud to agree to pursue legislation which would protect the existing system of open-ended army draft deferments for full-time yeshiva students from Supreme Court rulings. A 2015 draft law passed at the behest of the UTJ and Shas parties was struck down in 2017 by the Supreme Court, forcing the government to consider new legislation to either bypass the court’s decision or to limit the draft deferment system.

Yisrael Beytenu has pushed for added measures in the draft deferment program to encourage haredi enlistment, including monetary sanctions for yeshivas which fail to reach draft quotas. That demand has set the largerly secular right-wing party at odds with the two haredi factions.

All three parties are needed if Netanyahu is form a majority coalition in the Knesset, forcing the Likud to pressure both sides to accept some kind of compromise deal.

At Wednesday’s meeting between Netanyahu and Shas leader Aryeh Deri, however, talks failed to achieve any kind of breakthrough, Shas officials told Kikar HaShabbat, leaving negotiations effectively stalled.

“We’re at the beginning of the process, there hasn’t been any significant progress,” one Shas official said. “Only after we solve the draft law issue can we get on to the matter of cabinet positions.”

After the talks with Shas failed to yield progress, a meeting slated for Wednesday between Netanyahu with UTJ leaders was cancelled, while talks with Yisrael Beytenu are still expected to take place.

A Likud official accused the UTJ of not taking the negotiations seriously, telling Kikar HaShabbat that the talks with UTJ “aren’t professional.”

“They’re wearing us out with these clauses and subsections that don’t need to be in a coalition agreement. Just their demands regarding the housing crisis would take two weeks to deal with.”