United Torah Jewry will vote for the national budget for 2005
and the Arrangements Law under an agreement reached Sunday
between party representatives and a Finance Ministry
representative. The agreement includes a transfer of NIS 290
million for yeshivas, kollelim, talmudei Torah and
other educational institutions as well as a pledge by the
government not to impose further disproportionate cutbacks on
funding for the chareidi sector. As soon as it was announced,
Shinui said it would not vote for a budget that includes
money for chareidim.
Sharon appears to be determined not to capitulate to Shinui's
threats to resign from the coalition. Defending the UTJ
agreement he said, "During the past two years extensive cuts
were made in chareidi sector support, far beyond what we were
compelled to do in the framework of the economic program in
the rest of the economy, and the amounts that will be
restored are very reasonable."
Regarding Shinui's threat to resign he said these funds
"cannot serve as an excuse not to support the government in
such an important vote." Rejecting the threat he said, "We
will not consent to have one party or another impose an
opinion that conflicts with the general public interest. I
would not allow Shinui to dictate to us how to act with
respect to other parties. I always rejected this on the spot.
The moment there was an attempt by Shinui to impose bans I
rejected it on the spot. And as such I even made it a point
yesterday to have an agreement signed with UTJ . . . The
agreement with UTJ cannot serve as an excuse for anybody not
to vote in favor of the budget. It is not a question of money
but a question of stability," Sharon concluded.
The Prime Minister stressed he has no "objections to the
addition of any party, based on the government's policy
decisions, including the addition of Shas." However, "if
Shas' stance is against the government disengagement program,
my allowing them to join is out of the question. The
government has reached a decision and it will be carried out.
Nobody is under the impression we will bring someone in to
sit on the government and vote against [its stated policy]. A
state cannot manage its affairs based on [flighty] decisions.
This would be irresponsible." He also called on all Likud
members, including the rebel faction, to support all
government decisions in the Knesset votes.
The agreement was signed by MKs Rabbi Moshe Gafni and Rabbi
Yaakov Litzman as well as Kobi Haber, head of the budget
department at the Finance Ministry. UTJ committed to vote in
favor of the budget in all three plenum readings and also in
the various committee meetings.
The agreement was reached after weeks of negotiations with
representatives from both the Finance Ministry and the Prime
Minister's Office. The four components of the agreement
1. No special budget cuts will be imposed on the chareidi
sector beyond the cuts imposed on all other sectors.
2. The Prime Minister's Office will continue accelerated
handling of the issue of Religious Councils in order to
provide decent religious services.
3. NIS 140 million will be budgeted for advanced yeshivas and
4. NIS 150 million will be budgeted for the following:
kindergartens, busing, seminaries, dormitories, student
insurance, Jewish culture and talmudei Torah.
Tuesday the government intends to bring the 2005 budget and
the Arrangements Law to the Knesset for a first reading.
Deliberations over both issues were held one month ago but
the vote was postponed due to the lack of a majority in the
government. Since then the government has been conducting
negotiations with various parties to build a majority and UTJ
is the first to sign an agreement despite the fact it is an
The agreement only commits UTJ to support the government on
the budget, but not on no-confidence votes, legislation
proposals, etc. The government tried to persuade UTJ to back
it on these issues as well, but UTJ representatives rejected
this demand, saying they were negotiating on the budget
The government is also close to reaching an agreement with
the NRP despite its resignation from the coalition just two
weeks ago. In exchange for its support of the budget the
government will allocate NIS 130 million for Hesder yeshivas,
ulpanot and other national-religious bodies and
According to assessments the government is assured of 52-53
votes for the budget vote. This figure includes the Likud's
40 MKs, 5 from UTJ, 5 from the NRP and MKs Michael Nudelman
and David Tal (MK Eitam is out of the country). Shinui
announced it would not support the budget even though it is
part of the coalition, due to the increased funding for
yeshivas and kollelim. Sharon said he would fire
Shinui ministers who vote against the government.
Shas Chairman Eli Yishai said on the issue of funding demands
for religious matters he has coordinated with the UTJ
representatives who signed the agreement with the
In addition to UTJ and the NRP the Likud claims two Arab MKs
from the United Arab List, Abdulmalik Dehamshe and Talab El-
Sana, might support the budget or abstain in exchange for
various monetary commitments. Minister Ehud Olmert conducted
the negotiations with the two Arab MKs.
If Shinui leaves the government, there is speculation that
the Likud Central Committee would approve a government
incorporating UTJ and Labor, even though it has rejected a
government with Labor in the past.