Coalition talks stalled as factions quarrel in new Knesset

Netanyahu met with Arye Deri and Itamar Ben-Gvir on Wednesday, with Deri continuing to insist on the Finance Ministry.

 Far-right Israeli lawmakers Itamar Ben Gvir, center, and Bezalel Smotrich, right, attend the swearing-in ceremony for the new Israeli parliament, at the Knesset, or parliament, in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022. (photo credit: MAYA ALLERUZZO/REUTERS)
Far-right Israeli lawmakers Itamar Ben Gvir, center, and Bezalel Smotrich, right, attend the swearing-in ceremony for the new Israeli parliament, at the Knesset, or parliament, in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022.
(photo credit: MAYA ALLERUZZO/REUTERS)

Efforts by prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu to form a coalition remained stalled on Wednesday, as members of his bloc continued to fight over who would get control of each ministry.

Religious Zionist Party head Bezalel Smotrich continued to demand the position of defense minister, despite opposition from Netanyahu, who wants to keep the position within Likud.

Negotiations are also being held up by Shas head Arye Deri, who is demanding the Finance Ministry, a position in which both the Likud and Smotrich have expressed interest. Deri again repeated his demand during a short meeting with Netanyahu on Wednesday afternoon.

The Likud reportedly offered to have Smotrich and Deri do a rotation, with Smotrich serving as finance minister for two years, followed by Deri for another two years, according to Calcalist. The two have not yet responded to the offer, according to the report.

 Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid sits with National Unity Party leader Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the swearing-in ceremony for the new 25th Knesset, November 15, 2022. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS) Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid sits with National Unity Party leader Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the swearing-in ceremony for the new 25th Knesset, November 15, 2022. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

The Religious Zionist party responded to reports of a warning by US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides to Netanyahu regarding Smotrich, stating "We have a lot of respect and appreciation for our ally the US, but the Biden administration should also respect Israeli democracy and not interfere in the establishment of an elected government. A sovereign state cannot agree to foreign dictates that would endanger Israel's security and harm Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria."

Later in the evening, Netanyahu met with Otzma Yehudit head and RZP co-leader Itamar Ben-Gvir as part of continued efforts to break the deadlock. The Likud stated afterward that there had been “significant progress” in talks between the Likud and Otzma Yehudit.

As part of the agreements reached between the Likud and Otzma, the two agreed to regulate illegal West Bank outposts, known as the “young settlements,” within 60 days of the establishment of a government, and to amend the Disengagement Law to allow for a yeshiva to be established in the abandoned Homesh settlement and in Evyatar.

The two also agreed to extend the Dromi Law, which allows the use of force, including deadly force if necessary, against trespassers, to IDF bases to allow soldiers to prevent the theft of weapons. The parties will also pass a law setting a minimum punishment for agricultural crimes and protection rackets and create bypass roads and an extension of Route 60 in the West Bank.

Amid the deadlock, Likud MK Eli Dallal stated, “Our partners should come down from the tree and understand that the Likud has the most experienced people. The citizens of Israel expect us to establish a right-wing government as soon as possible and these power plays do not promote this.”

Likud MK Nissim Vaturi told KAN Reshet Bet radio that his party wants “Israel’s security to be from the Likud. The Religious Zionist Party should respect the coalition members and partners, they cannot eat the whole cake and go home.”

In a tweet, Ben-Gvir criticized the public sniping between Netanyahu and Smotrich: “Enough with shooting ourselves in the back: Bezalel [Smotrich] is a complete idealist, and I call on everyone to show responsibility. Let’s enter into intense negotiations and closed rooms until the smoke clears. We will not establish a right-wing government with slander and quarrels.”

United Torah Judaism also issued a new demand on Wednesday that hametz not be allowed into hospitals during Passover, according to N12.

Report claims Likud, Yesh Atid, National Unity trying to form unity government

Meanwhile, Maariv reported on Wednesday that extensive meetings have been conducted between the Likud, Yesh Atid and National Unity in recent days to discuss forming a broad coalition. The talks reportedly began due to pressure from the US to leave Smotrich and Ben-Gvir out of the coalition.

Yesh Atid and Likud denied the report, with each side calling it spin being made by the other side.

Shortly after the report was published, RZP stated it was “disturbed by the reports that Netanyahu opposes the appointment of Smotrich due to pressure from the Biden administration and the fear that he will lead an aggressive policy against terrorism and the Palestinian Authority.”

At around the same time, a Likud spokesperson said Netanyahu immediately proposed forming a government to Smotrich, telling him: “Given the political and security situation, there is no reason to waste a single moment on jobs instead of taking advantage of the opportunity.”

Opposition quarrels over alleged talks between Likud, National Unity

In the opposition, National Unity, Yesh Atid, Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am clashed with each other, amid accusations that National Unity had reached an agreement with the Likud.

During a speech at the Knesset plenum on Wednesday, Yesh Atid MK Boaz Toporovsky accused National Unity head Benny Gantz of assigning Ze’ev Elkin to reach an agreement with the Likud concerning representation in the Knesset Arrangements Committee.

Toporovsky later attacked Hadash-Ta’al MK Ahmad Tibi after Tibi was named as the Likud’s choice for interim deputy Knesset speaker, with Tibi responding by stressing that Yesh Atid had held a meeting of opposition leaders without inviting Hadash-Ta’al.

“I owe you nothing. I only owe my faction. Now I understand how you lost the election,” said Tibi. “You have the gall to preach morality to me on what to bring my faction? This is arrogance. This is condescension.”

Yesh Atid MK Karin Elharrar also attacked National Unity on Wednesday, tweeting “I came to the Arrangements Committee and I didn’t understand. What did he [seemingly in reference to Gantz] decide? To go to the opposition to work with Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir from there?”

Knesset committee meetings devolve into shouting matches

Meetings of the Knesset committees on Wednesday devolved into shouting matches multiple times as well.

During a meeting of the interim Knesset finance committee, Yesh Atid MK Michal Shir clashed with Likud MKs Tali Gotlieb and Shlomo Karhi, calling Gotlieb a “defender of rapists” in reference to cases where Gotlieb served as a defense attorney for defendants charged with being rapists.

Gotlieb responded that she had worked as a defense lawyer for 22 years adding “I am proud of the knowledge I collected, I have brought to the Knesset my uncompromising ability to represent suspects and defendants in front of the most senior bodies in the country.”

Labor MK Gilad Kariv was kicked out of a meeting of the Arrangements Committee after arguing with the committee’s chairman, Likud MK Yoav Kisch, after Kisch ended his time to speak.

Eliav Breuer contributed to this report.