The head of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, MK Rabbi Rafi Peretz, was appointed interim education minister on Monday, while MK Bezalel Smotrich, who heads the hard-line religious-Zionist National Union party, a constituent of URP, was made interim transportation minister.
At the request of URP, Smotrich was appointed as a full member of the security cabinet while Peretz was given observer status in the body.
Following his appointment by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Smotrich said that as a member of the security cabinet, he would demand “a decision regarding Hamas,” and “the restoration of quiet” for southern residents, in reference to the ongoing tensions on the southern border and the sporadic rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
In an interview on KAN News, Smotrich went further saying that the only way to restore security for the south was to reconquer the Gaza Strip and reestablish the Gush Katif settlements, which were evacuated in the 2005 disengagement.
“The only solution for Gaza that will finally bring quiet, peace and security to the residents of the south is to return to the Gaza Strip and take responsibility to reestablish the Gush Katif settlements,” said Smotrich. “Until then we are only conducting tactical solutions.”
Asked whether he was close enough to Netanyahu to get the ministerial portfolio he most desires, that of justice minister, Smotrich said he was not Netanyahu’s man but rather a man of God.
“I am not Netanyahu’s man, I am a man of the Jewish people, I am a man of the public who sent me [to the Knesset], allow me to say, and I hope I do not arouse a storm, I work for God and I do what I believe and think is good for the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”
According to a statement from a Likud Party spokesman, it was agreed during a meeting between Netanyahu, Peretz and Smotrich that the status quo on matters of religion and state would be preserved during the tenure of the interim government.
This was likely in response to unverified reports that Smotrich was threatening not to automatically approve requests for infrastructure work on Shabbat, which destabilized the last government largely due to the disquiet of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parties over such public Shabbat desecration.
Smotrich denied that he made such comments, pointing out the welfare and labor minister made such decisions.
Peretz thanked Netanyahu for his appointment, saying he took on the position of education minister “with honor and awe,” and that he would be “the education minister of all the children of Israel, and would embrace everyone” in his work.
Criticism of the appointments from the Left was swift in coming, with Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg saying that Netanyahu had “given two people who want to turn Israel into a state of Jewish law the keys” to do so.
She also slammed the appointment of Smotrich to the cabinet, saying the prime minister had put “a messianic warmonger into Israel’s [security] cabinet.”
Smotrich said recently that in the long term he wanted the State of Israel to be governed by Jewish law. Following his appointment, he said that although he had demanded the Justice Ministry in the interim government, as well as the permanent position during coalition negotiations, he had backed down since he had less leverage currently than when Netanyahu was trying to form a new government.
Writing on his Facebook page, Smotrich said that the struggle to obtain the prestigious and highly influential position of justice minister in the next government was not over.
The newly minted minister said being part of the security cabinet was “an important tool in the ability to impact and lead,” and that it was fitting that representatives of the religious-Zionist community have a role in it.
Smotrich explained that the decision in which he took the full security cabinet membership and not Peretz had been taken between them, the reason being that Peretz was “a man of education” while Smotrich described himself as “coming more from the operative realm.”
The minister said that in the security cabinet he and Peretz would make heard “a clear voice that returns to a dialogue of victory and the destruction of the enemy,” and that they would “demand a decision on Hamas and the restoration of quiet for southern residents.”
Separately, Bayit Yehudi is scheduled to hold a meeting of its central committee on Wednesday, when it is thought that the list of Knesset candidates from the last election will be preserved.
Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan of the Bayit Yehudi Party told The Jerusalem Post that he will be the fourth place candidate and will not, as last time, receive a reserved slot on the Likud slate.
During the last election, Ben-Dahan was given a reserved spot at No. 28 on the Likud list, in return for Bayit Yehudi and National Union adding the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party to its joint list.
Netanyahu sweetened the deal for Bayit Yehudi, which gave up Ben-Dahan’s spot for an Otzma Yehudit candidate, by adding Ben-Dahan to the Likud list.
Ben-Dahan said that Netanyahu had already told him he could not enact such a maneuver this time, since he already needed to integrate four Kulanu candidates onto Likud’s list.
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