Israel's 37th government set to take power

Coalition agreement filed; a number of Likud MKs are unhappy

 Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Likud faction meeting following the signing of the final coalition deals, December 28, 2022. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a Likud faction meeting following the signing of the final coalition deals, December 28, 2022.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented his coalition agreements to the Knesset on Wednesday ahead of the government’s swearing in on Thursday, and began to announce to his fellow Likud members what their roles will be in the incoming government and coalition.

Netanyahu summoned the Likud members one by one to a personal meeting in which he announced their positions.

Yoav Gallant is officially the next defense minister. Other official appointment includes Haim Katz as tourism minister, Yoav Kisch as education minister, Avi Dichter as agriculture and rural development minister, Shlomo Karhi as communications minister, Miri Regev as transportation minister, Idit Silman as environmental protection minister, Miki Zohar as culture and sports minister, Ofir Akunis as science and technology minister, Amir Ohana as Knesset speaker pending the plenum’s approval on Thursday, Ofir Katz as coalition whip and Yuli Edelstein as chair of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, pending approval in a Likud faction meeting.

The appointments came after the Likud handed in all of the coalition agreements to the Knesset secretariat at exactly 11 a.m., as the law requires them to be filed a minimum of 24 hours before the government is sworn in. A special Knesset plenum session will be held on Thursday beginning at 11 a.m., in which the Knesset will vote to ratify the new government – Israel’s 37th.

Netanyahu gathered his party for the first time since the November 1 election. He thanked the party for its “extensive joint efforts,” adding that it was establishing “a stable government for a full term, of all citizens of Israel.”

 Likud MK Amir Ohana vote at a Likud polling station in Jerusalem on August 10, 2022 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90) Likud MK Amir Ohana vote at a Likud polling station in Jerusalem on August 10, 2022 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)

MKs David Amsalem, David Bitan and Danny Danon reportedly criticized Netanyahu at the meeting for not convening the party during the entire duration of the coalition negotiations. Amsalem even shouted at Netanyahu and accused MK Yariv Levin of “doing whatever they wanted,” Channel 12 reported.

Danon spoke out publicly against Netanyahu later on Wednesday, saying both on Army Radio and KAN Radio that he deserved to serve in a senior ministerial role, and expressing his disappointment over the negotiation process.

MK Israel Katz was reportedly offered to serve second in a rotation as foreign minister and refused the offer. Edelstein also reportedly was unhappy with the appointment, telling Netanyahu he would accept the job if his fellow Likud members chose him but not because it was given to him by Netanyahu.

Katz reportedly expected to be chosen first in a rotation, and even wrote on Twitter on Tuesday evening that the roles were Netanyahu’s to distribute and that he would respect whatever he was given.

The discontent of Katz, Edelstein, Amsalem, Bitan and Danon could create problems for Netanyahu down the road. It remains to be seen how these tensions will affect his tenure.

Ohana’s appointment as speaker was notable because he is gay, and the incoming coalition includes a number of politicians who vehemently oppose gay rights, including Noam’s Avi Maoz and the Religious Zionist Party’s Bezalel Smotrich. Ultra-Orthodox members of Knesset even walked out on Ohana’s swearing in when he first became an MK in 2015 for this reason.

The Knesset speaker is considered the country’s “No. 3 citizen” after the president and prime minister, and serves as the stand-in president when the sitting head of state is off duty. The speaker also controls the pace of legislation in the Knesset and can greatly influence which bills pass into law and which don’t.

All of the parties save for United Torah Judaism’s hassidic faction, Agudat Yisrael, waited until Wednesday morning to sign the final agreements, despite Netanyahu having announced a week earlier to President Isaac Herzog that he had succeeded in forming a government.

Agudat Yisrael and UTJ’s Lithuanian Degel Hatorah faction signed the same document – ending a crisis that developed last Wednesday night when Degel Hatorah chairman Moshe Gafni refused to sign the agreement at the last minute.

"We will establish a stable government for a full term of all citizens of Israel."

Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Gafni’s change of heart was reportedly because he received a directive not to back down from a demand for Degel Hatorah to have its own rabbinic council on “kosher” cellphones, which would be slightly more lenient than the current council.

Degel Hatorah and Agudat Yisrael reportedly decided to postpone the issue until after the law to cancel outgoing Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel’s kosher cellphone reform passes its first reading in the Knesset plenum.

The reform’s goal was to bar the rabbinic council from controlling which cellphone numbers would belong solely to kosher cellphones, thus blocking the council’s ability to monitor who does and who does not use a kosher phone.

What positions will UTJ MKs receive in the new coalition?

UTJ leader Yitzhak Goldknopf (Agudat Yisrael) will receive the position of housing minister, and his No. 2, Moshe Gafni (Degel HaTorah), will head the Finance Committee. Further down the list, Uri Maklev will receive the position of deputy minister in the Social Equality and Pensioners Ministry responsible for haredi development, and deputy minister in the Transportation Ministry responsible for “haredi transportation.” Meir Porush will head the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry, which will be broken away from the Heritage Ministry.

Yakov Asher will head the Interior Committee, and Yisrael Eichler will serve as the head of the Labor and Welfare Committee.

Finally, Yitzhak Pindrus will serve as head of the Public Inquiry Committee, and Yaakov Tessler will serve as a deputy minister, most likely in the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry.

 UTJ chairman Rabbi Yitzchak Goldknopf and Members of the United Torah Judaism speaks to the press after a meeting with Israeli president Isaac Herzog at the President's residence in Jerusalem on November 10, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) UTJ chairman Rabbi Yitzchak Goldknopf and Members of the United Torah Judaism speaks to the press after a meeting with Israeli president Isaac Herzog at the President's residence in Jerusalem on November 10, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The Likud announced on Wednesday morning that for the first time in years, there were no “coalition funds” included in the agreements. These are funds that are earmarked for parties to use for their own purposes.

Shas publishes list of positions to be held by party

Shas published a list of positions their MKs will hold in the new coalition, starting with Shas leader Arye Deri, who will serve as interior minister and health minister, before switching to serve as finance minister after two years.

Following him is Ya’acov Margi, who will hold the position of labor, social affairs and social services minister in a rotation agreement with Yoav Ben-Tzur, who will take over the role after two years.

Michael Malkieli will serve as a minister within the Religious Services Ministry, and Haim Biton will serve as a minister in the Education Ministry. Moshe Arbel will hold the positions of deputy health minister and deputy interior minister.

Yinon Azoulay will serve as Shas chairman in the Knesset and as a member of the Finance Committee. After two years, he will take over as chairman of the Knesset Committee.

Moshe Abutbul will take on the role of deputy agriculture and rural development minister, and Uriel Busso will serve on the Health Committee and deputy chairman on the Knesset Committee.

Finally, Yosef Taibe will serve as the chairman of the Education Committee.

 Shas leader MK Arye Deri in the Knesset Plenum ahead of a vote, December 28, 2022 (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Shas leader MK Arye Deri in the Knesset Plenum ahead of a vote, December 28, 2022 (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Religious Zionist Party win coveted positions

RZP received several coveted spots in the new coalition, including the position of finance minister, which will be filled by party leader Smotrich for the first two years of the government’s term.

After two years, Smotrich will rotate with Deri, receiving instead the roles of health minister and interior minister.

Orit Struck will serve in the newly created role of national missions minister, and Simcha Rothman will serve as chairman of the Constitution and Religion Committees.

Michal Waldiger will serve as deputy finance minister with a focus on welfare and health. Additionally, Ohad Tal will serve as chairman of the National Infrastructure Projects and Reforms Committee.

Finally, Moshe Solomon will be a deputy Knesset speaker, a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and a member of the Finance Committee.

 MK's Simcha Rotman and Orit Struck in the opening of the Knesset summer session at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on May 9, 2022.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) MK's Simcha Rotman and Orit Struck in the opening of the Knesset summer session at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on May 9, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)