Netanyahu’s government set to be sworn in on Thursday, but hurdles remain

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu will attempt to be sworn in to his ruling coalition of far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties on Thursday, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin said on Monday, and the former prime minister is seeking to resume power before the date. limit to bring your rebellious partners online.

Levin formally briefed the full Knesset on Monday about 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, plus his right wing party. Likud to be officially sworn in.

Levin said a hearing and a vote of confidence on the incoming government are scheduled for Thursday morning, though they may be pushed back to 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 up ministerial posts among members of his Likud party, and finalizing two key laws demanded by the coalition partners as preconditions.

The first of these bills: allowing the appointment of an independent minister within the Defense Ministry with broad authority over West Bank settlers and Palestinians, as well as clearing the way for Shas’s Aryeh Deri to head two ministries, despite a recent suspended sentence for taxes. fraud, is expected to arrive for its final votes on Monday night.

A second bill, to expand political authority over police leadership and policy as demanded by incoming far-right police minister Itamar Ben Gvir, was scheduled for final votes on Tuesday after a committee halted it. . legal advisers who warned against rushing into 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 divvy up roles among his own party’s top lawmakers before he is sworn in.

It has only signed a coalition agreement with United Torah Judaism, and even that agreement will be slightly modified to remove a clause giving the ultra-Orthodox party a seat in the security cabinet. While UTJ is currently run by his Agudat Yisrael faction, whose leader Yitzhak Goldknopf signed the deal, his Degel HaTorah faction failed to coordinate its completion and threatened to reopen negotiations over the security cabinet role for Goldknopf, who he retired his demand for the position on Monday.

Likud has drafted framework agreements with far-right Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit, but has yet to finalize and sign those agreements. Otzma Yehudit leader Ben Gvir has hinted that talks on their deal may not be final, after criticizing Netanyahu for apparently amending the terms of their deal regarding the removal of legislation banning racist politicians from the Knesset.

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

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

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

Netanyahu has yet to brief most Likud members on their roles in the upcoming Knesset, and has yet to give a final word on who will succeed Levin this week as Knesset speaker. Levin signaled his intention to resign on Tuesday, in line with a plan that his posting would only be temporary to guide the coalition through its legislative blitz ahead of the swearing-in process.

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

A report earlier this month also said Levin had proposed lowering the retirement age for Supreme Court justices from 70 to 67. If enacted, the measure would require four of the 15 serving justices to step aside, including Chief Justice Esther Hayut, 69, Uzi Vogelman, 68, Yosef Elron, 67 and Anat Baron, 69.

The incoming government has been sharply criticized by political opponents for plans to weaken the judiciary, roll back civil rights protections, realign some security command structures, and increase funding and protection for religious schools, among others. topics.

Scheduled to be relegated to the opposition seats within the week, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said the policies pushed by members of Netanyahu’s incoming government were “disarming the State of Israel from within” and amounted to “plundering the democratic values”.

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

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

“LGBT people who heard from Simcha Rothman that they will be banned from hotels? Arabs who heard from Orit Strock that doctors can refuse to treat them? Activists of women’s organizations who discovered that they are on Avi Maoz’s account black lists? Reform and Conservative Jews who heard of [MK Meir] Why will they be denied access to the Wailing Wall? Or senior members of the state attorney’s office and the police who heard from Yair Netanyahu that they should be prosecuted for treason, for which the penalty is death? Lapid said.

Lapid was referring in part to a coalition lawsuit touted on Sunday by religious Zionist lawmakers that would allow business owners and even doctors to refuse the service if it interferes with their religious sensibilities, something Netanyahu has twice made clear he does not support despite appearing in published drafts of coalition agreements.

“This is no longer a political fight,” 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.”

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

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

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

“They are inciting the public against the decision of the people, spreading endless lies against the elected government. What will be your next step? Send your protesters to scale the fences of the Knesset? Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu called on Lapid to “behave responsibly, accept the decision of the people and transfer power in an orderly manner so that we can fix everything that they have destroyed in the last year and a half.”

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

“If anyone thinks that this will end with the formation of the government, they are completely wrong,” Lapid said, calling Netanyahu “the weakest prime minister in history.”

“If we don’t stop them, it will get much worse,” he added.

Netanyahu has been accused of caving in to far-reaching demands that he 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 headed by a politician on trial for corruption. .

Among the planned changes is legislation that would allow the Knesset to overturn a High Court ruling finding a law unconstitutional, giving haredi and right-wing parties wide latitude to pass measures described as discriminatory, such as exemptions or protections from IDF project for those who refuse service to members of the LGBT community and others.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a meeting of National Unity Party factions in Jerusalem, on 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 call on ultra-Orthodox political parties to stand against hotly debated elements of religious coercion and discrimination. in coalition agreements.

“What you are doing and supporting these days is turning Israel from a Jewish state to 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 “will hurt you in the first place … and further alienate you from the general population.”

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

When that happens, Gantz said, “remember that you were part of the constellation that whitewashed damage to minorities. That 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 vowing to oppose the incoming government.

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

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

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

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

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