Netanyahu's government due to be sworn in on Thursday, but hurdles remain

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Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu will seek to swear in his ruling coalition of far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties on Thursday, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin said on Monday, as the former prime minister seeks to regain power. before the deadline to bring his unruly partners in line.

Levin formally informed the Knesset plenary on Monday of Netanyahu’s announcement last week that he could form Israel’s next government, starting a seven-day clock for the coalition of three far-right parties and two ultra-Orthodox parties, in addition to from his right Likud will be officially sworn in.

Levin said a hearing and vote of confidence in the new government is scheduled for Thursday morning, though it could be postponed until the morning of Jan. 2.

Netanyahu still has some key hurdles to overcome before taking office, including formalizing coalition agreements with nearly all of his partners, dividing ministerial posts among Likud party members and finalizing two key pieces of legislation demanded by the coalition partners as preconditions.

The first of these bills – to allow the appointment of an independent minister within the Ministry of Defense with broad authority over West Bank settlers and Palestinians, as well as clearing the way for Aryeh Deri of Shas to run two ministries, despite a recent suspended sentence for tax fraud – is due to come to its final ballots on Monday night.

A second bill – to expand political authority over police leadership and policy, as demanded by new far-right Police Minister Itamar Ben Gvir – was scheduled for final votes on Tuesday after passing through a committee where he was held up by opposition lawmakers and legal advisers who warned against rushing controversial moves.

A bill must pass three readings in the Knesset to become law.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Druckman on December 26, 2022 in Masu’ot Itzhak. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In addition to clearing legislative hurdles, Netanyahu has yet to finalize coalition agreements with his partners and has split roles among his own party’s senior MKs ahead of his inauguration.

He has only signed a coalition agreement with United Torah Judaism, and even that agreement will be amended slightly to remove a clause that gives the ultra-Orthodox party a seat in the security cabinet. Although the UTJ is currently led by its Agudat Yisrael faction, whose leader Yitzhak Goldknopf signed the deal, its Degel HaTorah faction did not coordinate its finalization and threatened to reopen negotiations over the role of the security cabinet for Goldknopf, who withdrew his demand for the post in Monday. 🇧🇷

Likud has worked out framework agreements with far-right Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit, but has yet to finalize and sign these agreements. Otzma Yehudit leader Ben Gvir has hinted that talks over the deal may not be final, after criticizing Netanyahu for apparently changing the terms of the deal on removing legislation banning racist Knesset politicians.

The far-right Haredi Shas and Noam have yet to strike deals with Likud, although all partner parties have agreed on the roles shared between them.

Otzma Yehudit party leader Itamar Ben Gvir at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 26, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

While government positions have been put in order for Netanyahu’s coalition partners, confusion persists within Likud. Some of its members, including David Bitan, have publicly complained that Netanyahu has handed over too many important posts outside the party as it is the largest in the Knesset.

Netanyahu has yet to brief most Likud members on their roles in the next Knesset, and he has not yet given a final word on who will succeed Levin this week as Knesset Spokesman. Levin signaled his intention to resign on Tuesday, according to a plan that his role would only be temporary to lead the coalition through its legislative blitz ahead of the inauguration process.

Levin, a close confidant of Netanyahu and a rising star in the party, is expected to be justice minister or foreign minister. He is a staunch supporter of judicial reforms and, if he serves as justice minister, is likely to push for some of the coalition’s most controversial plans to rein in the judiciary.

A report earlier this month also said Levin proposed lowering the retirement age for Supreme Court justices from 70 to 67. Uzi Vogelman, 68, Yosef Elron, 67, and Anat Baron, 69.

The new government has been heavily criticized by its political opponents for plans to weaken the judiciary, roll back civil rights protections, realign some security command structures and increase funding and protection of religious schools, among other issues.

Scheduled to be relegated to the opposition pews within a week, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said the policies being promoted by members of Netanyahu’s new government were “dismantling the State of Israel from within” and constituted a “looting of democratic values”.

Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid leads a meeting of the Yesh Atid party in Jerusalem, December 26, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“I wonder who [is] more afraid to live in this country,” he said at the start of his Yesh Atid party faction meeting in the Knesset on Monday.

“LGBT people who heard from Simcha Rothman that they will be turned away from hotels? Arabs who heard from Orit Strock that doctors can refuse to treat them? Activists from women’s organizations who discovered they are on Avi Maoz’s blacklists? Reform and Conservative Jews who heard [MK Meir] Porush that they will be stopped at the Wailing Wall? Or senior members of the state prosecution and police who heard from Yair Netanyahu that they should be prosecuted for treason, the penalty of which is death?” said Lapid.

Lapid was referring in part to a coalition demand released on Sunday by religious Zionist MKs that would allow business people and even doctors to refuse service if it interfered with their religious sensibilities – something Netanyahu has twice clarified that he does not support, although it has appeared in published publications. draft coalition agreements.

“This is no longer a political struggle,” Lapid continued. “It is a battle for the soul of the State of Israel as a Jewish state, as a democratic state, as a sane state.”

Responding to the criticism, Netanyahu accused Lapid of not respecting the November 1 election results.

Religious Zionism MKs Simcha Rothman and Orit Strock at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 9, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Lapid, losing the election is not the end of democracy, it is the essence of democracy. You refuse to accept the people’s decision,” Netanyahu said in a video message recorded after Lapid’s comments.

“You are inciting the public against the people’s decision, you spread endless lies against the elected government. What will be your next step? Send your protesters to scale the Knesset fences? said Netanyahu.

Netanyahu urged Lapid “to behave responsibly, accept the people’s decision and transfer power in an orderly manner so that we can fix everything you have destroyed over the last year and a half”.

Lapid said he accepts the election results but has been adamant in his criticism of the new government’s policies regarding religion and its role in the state, judicial reform and minority rights.

“If anyone thinks this will stop with the formation of a government, they are completely mistaken,” Lapid said, calling Netanyahu “the weakest prime minister ever.”

“If we don’t stop them, it’s going to get a lot worse,” he added.

Netanyahu has been accused of giving in to far-reaching demands that will fundamentally alter Israel’s democratic system to win the support of his only remaining allies, with other potential partners refusing to back a government led by a politician on trial for corruption.

Among the planned changes is legislation that would allow the Knesset to overturn a High Court ruling that it found a law unconstitutional, which would give Haredi and right-wing parties ample leeway to pass measures described as discriminatory, such as project exemptions or protections. of IDF for those who refuse service to members of the LGBT community and others.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a National Unity Party faction meeting in Jerusalem, December 26, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Speaking at a meeting of his Blue and White faction in the Knesset on Monday, outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz made a public appeal to ultra-Orthodox political parties to oppose elements of religious coercion and discrimination that are being hotly debated in coalition agreements.

“What you are currently doing and supporting is turning Israel from a Jewish state into a religious state,” Gantz said. “From a Jewish state to a tribal state – and the result will harm Judaism, it will harm religion and it will harm the State of Israel as a whole.”

Gantz said legislation allowing discrimination and racism “is going to hurt you first of all… and it’s going to further alienate you from the general population.”

He added that such moves could lead to “secular people only hotels, workplaces announcing they will not accept Haredim”, he said.

When that happens, Gantz said, “remember that you were part of the constellation that covered up harm to minorities. It disintegrated us into tribes.”

The leaders of most of the parties that will form the next opposition met in the Knesset and issued a joint statement pledging to oppose the new government.

“We will work together to fight this backward and undemocratic government that is being established that will dismantle Israel from within,” said Lapid, Gantz, Labor Merav Michaeli, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman and Mansour Abbas of Ra’am .

New opposition party leaders (from left) Mansour Abbas, Yair Lapid, Merav Michaeli, Benny Gantz and Avigdor Liberman meet in the Knesset on Dec. 26, 2022. (Courtesy)

“When we return to power, we promise to cancel any extremist legislation that harms democracy, security, the economy or Israeli society,” they added.

A representative of Hadash-Ta’al – which will also be in the opposition but generally does not cooperate with the other parties – was not present.