Following coalition talks that continued almost until dawn on Tuesday, Likud-Beytenu and Habayit Hayehudi representatives will meet again Wednesday evening to discuss a plan drafted by Habayit Hayehudi for enlisting ultra-Orthodox Jews into the Israel Defense Forces. The plan has already been agreed to by Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid.
Bennett's plan seeks to bridge the chasm between Lapid, who seeks a reduced number of draft exemptions for yeshiva students, and the haredim, who want no quota at all. According to Bennett's plan, the state would finance a limited number of yeshiva students who would be categorized as full-time students. All other yeshiva students, according to the plan, would not be subsidized, even though they would not be drafted as long as they stayed in yeshiva. It also looks as though Habayit Hayehudi would take responsibility for implementing the law.
In addition, the plan enables the state to grant scholarships and financial perks to those yeshiva students who do go into the army or perform national service, and sets draft goals so that the number of haredi men serving will increase by dozens of percentage points over the next few years. For now, the plan will not include criminal sanctions against those who don't agree to be drafted.
The disagreement between Lapid and the haredim over the age of the draft still seems far from resolution, however. Lapid is apparently demanding that the draft be at age 18, while the haredi parties are interested in allowing haredi men to be drafted up to age 26. Habayit Hayehudi suggested that the age be 21, forcing men to leave yeshivas at age 21 and possibly engendering opposition in the religious Zionist community.
Likud insiders believe that even if a solution is found for the draft issue, Lapid, who is interested in a coalition without haredim, will find another issue to fight over.
In the meantime, negotiations with Habayit Hayehudi are continuing. The party recently asked for the housing portfolio, including responsibility over the Israel Lands Authority, which had been promised to Moshe Kahlon before the election.
Habayit Hayehudi also requested that the role of deputy defense minister, which Likud-Beytenu has already agreed to give it in principle, should include more than just authority over building in Judea and Samaria. The position should also have authority over implementation of the new haredi draft law that will be passed at the beginning of the term. The Likud is likely to accept these demands, even though they say they have not yet discussed the issue of portfolios.
Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett addressed the progress in negotiations, saying, "Finally we have begun to address issues of substance: portfolios and the fundamental guidelines of the next government. This is good news."
"Following our very good overnight meeting, during which there was significant progress on a wide range of issues, the parties will meet again. It is possible to finish negotiations with Habayit Hayehudi immediately," Likud said in a statement.
Likud said it expected to receive Habayit Hayehudi's haredi draft plan to see whether some sort of agreement can be reached around it. "If Habayit Hayehudi does not join," a Likud source said, "they will be party to the failure of a right-wing government."
Meanwhile, Shas is continuing backdoor negotiations between its leadership triad and Likud-Beytenu, but without significant progress. Shas estimates its chances of entering the coalition are "50-50."
"The prime minister wants us, but the alliance between Bennett and Lapid is stronger than we thought," a senior Shas source said. "Therefore there is a possibility that we will enter the opposition." The source also said that there is a scenario in which Shas could join a government containing both Bennett and Lapid.
"Bennett's plan will be acceptable to Lapid, and Bennett has already said that he does not plan to destroy the Torah world. Nor will his rabbis agree to it, and perhaps in the end, if the plan is not so awful, both we and United Torah Judaism will be able to live with it."
Reports are also emerging that Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett met with vote contractor Avihai Amrussi, who is at the center of a scandal concerning alleged vote buying in the party's primaries.
The meeting took place at the Blue Bay Hotel in Netanya. Bennett's staff acknowledged that such a meeting took place. "The meeting is like every meeting that takes place during primaries between candidates and vote contractors, but during the meeting questions were raised regarding Amrussi's work methods," a source said. "The Bennett campaign did not pay a cent to any political figure in exchange for votes."
Vote contracting, or an influential person's promise to a candidate to bring him votes in exchange for certain policies, is legal, but the outright purchase of votes is not. Amrussi is a known vote contractor, but the question remains whether he received money in exchange for delivering voters.
After the meeting between Bennett and Amrussi, there was another meeting between a senior activist in the Habayit Hayehudi campaign and Amrussi, but Bennett's associates have denied that this was meant to strike a deal and said the purpose was "to potentially expose legally problematic acts." They said that a private investigator who pretended to be a contributor was later sent to Amrussi. In voice recordings of the investigator's meetings with Amrussi, Amrussi was heard claiming that MK Nissan Slomiansky had given him money for votes.