Knesset legislative push resumes as clock ticks down for Netanyahu to be sworn in to coalition

Changes to Israel’s Basic Law supporting the formation and operation of the next government are expected to be finalized on Monday, as incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new coalition moves forward with legislation demanded by its partners ahead of swearing-in. of the new government.

With a lofty but fragile status changed by a simple majority of parliamentarians, the Basic Laws are Israel’s closest structures to a constitution. Far-right Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich has demanded a mechanism whereby he would serve as a independent minister within the Defense Ministry to take over construction of the West Bank, while Shas chief Aryeh Deri is pushing for loosen cabinet suitability requirementspaving the way for him to be appointed to lead two important ministries, despite a recent suspended sentence for tax fraud.

Combined into a single bill, the two changes are scheduled for their second and third readings on the Knesset floor. Because they modify a Basic Law, the bill needs 61 votes to be approved in its third reading.

Netanyahu’s Likud-led coalition of far-right and ultra-Orthodox allies controls 64 of the Knesset’s 120 seats.

Monday’s legislative session will begin with a formal announcement that Netanyahu has succeeded in forming a majority government, a technical move that will trigger the start of a seven-day countdown to the deadline for the swearing in of the new government.

Last week, the Likud leader bought himself extra time to finish legislating his partners’ demands by adjourning legislative sessions for the Hanukkah holiday, pushing the start of the stopwatch back to Monday, despite briefing the president on Wednesday. Isaac Herzog who had secured the necessary associations. to form a government.

While Deri and Smotrich are expected to see their demands met shortly, a second law expanding ministerial authority over the police, demanded by incoming Homeland Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, remains in committee to prepare its second and third. voting, often done jointly. .

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, left, and Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich speak during the swearing-in ceremony for the 24th Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 6, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL )

Substantially softened after a sharp barrage of criticism from the attorney general’s office, police commissioner, former senior police officials and opposition lawmakers, Otzma Yehudit leader Ben Gvir’s bill originally aimed to subordinate the leadership. and police policy to politicians and blur the operational authorities.

On Thursday, Ben Gvir, whose national security ministry will be a reformed police ministry as a result of promised expansions of power, retired his demand to enshrine in law policies that would bring the police directly under his control.

Citing the need to fend off an expected challenge from the High Court of Justice, Ben Gvir said he would split his bill and temporarily freeze subservience measures and his attempt to establish a case management policy.

Other parts of the bill, which will set out other policies, including regarding police investigations, will go some way forward. His bill also includes a clause that places the police under the authority of the government, although it will not make the police commissioner directly subservient to Ben Gvir, despite his best efforts.

In promoting the bill in recent weeks, Ben Gvir has said that putting the police under political control would be “democratic” and that continuing Israel’s current system of guaranteeing the operational independence of the police could create a “police state.” ”. A police state is generally considered to be a regime in which the police serve by political will, without operational independence.

Still stuck in a committee vote to remove more than 1,400 reservations raised by the opposition, it is unclear if the police rules amendment will come up for a final vote on Monday.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir attends a meeting of the Arrangements Committee at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 14, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu has until January 2 to take office, but Likud sources say he is pushing for him to do so on Thursday. To do so, Netanyahu must present signed coalition agreements with his five partners at least 24 hours before the swearing-in vote.

So far, four days after announcing to the president that he could form a government, and seven weeks after securing a majority at the polls with the same partners who ran as a clearly articulated bloc, Netanyahu has only signed a coalition agreement.

On Thursday, the Likud leader signed an agreement with one of the factions that make up the United Torah Judaism party: Agudat Yisrael, which currently holds the faction’s leadership under Knesset newcomer Yitzhak Goldknopf. However, the second faction of the UTJ, Degel Hatorah, has complained that Agudat Yisrael did not coordinate its position.

Goldknopf secured UTJ’s top spot in the top-level security cabinet, angering Degel leader Moshe Gafni and secular leaders alike, as Goldknopf did not serve in the military and is actively pushing to lower requirements. ultra-Orthodox to enlist, as one of their demands from the party’s main coalition.

MK Yitzhak Goldknopf in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on December 19, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Degel refuses to take up ministerial positions and opposes any UTJ minister being part of the delicate security cabinet, partly because he makes decisions that lead to wars and loss of life.

Netanyahu also faces discord within his own party. Likud is the largest faction in the Knesset and ambitious lawmakers are frustrated that Netanyahu ceded ministerial and committee leadership positions to other coalition partners.

Leaving little room for rebellion, Netanyahu is expected to reveal the final posts of his party members closer to his swearing-in deadline.

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