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The ultra-Orthodox bloc helped bring stability to Netanyahu’s last government and he would surely like them back on board this time, so long as he can find a compromise deal.
Ironically, Tuesday’s election saw the ultra-Orthodox parties win 18 seats, one more than in 2009 – a reflection of their growing demographic weight with a fertility rate that is some three times higher than that of other Israeli Jews.
Despite this gain, Ofer Kenig, a political scientist from The Israel Democracy Institute, said the ultra-Orthodox parties had a much reduced bargaining position than before.
“There is a growing recognition among the Haredim too that the current situation cannot continue for much longer,” Kenig said, referring to the Haredi exemptions from military service.
However, the head of the Haredi party United Torah Judaism, Israel Eichler, stoutly defended their privileges on Thursday, telling Israel Radio that his people had a sacred task, as essential to Israel as that carried out by the army.
“The burden is to maintain a Jewish state in Israel, which starts and ends with studying the Torah. There is a need for an army here, but if there is no Torah then there is no need for a state and therefore no need for the military,” he said.
Eli Yishai, a leader of Shas and the outgoing interior minister, hinted that a compromise could be found.
“If the prime minister wants a coalition with Shas … it will be difficult but doable. If we all want it, we can sit together, be more flexible and set up a government,” he said.