Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu continued coalition negotiations on Thursday, meeting with representatives from United Torah Judaism (UJT), Shas and the Religious Zionist Party (RZP), setting his sights to Wednesday as the day for the formation of the new government.
According to reports, there have not been any advancements in talks with RZP head Bezalel Smotrich due to the tensions rising from his insistence on getting the defense portfolio. Israeli security officials, as well as the Americans, have warned against the post.
Smotrich’s people refused to discuss any government positions in the negotiation meeting, according to KAN, saying that they already made all their demands clear. The rising tensions are surrounding the defense portfolio.
According to KAN, Smotrich refused the Likud’s offer to take the justice portfolio instead of defense.
Likud and Otzma Yehudit reach common ground
Despite the disconnect with RZP, Netanyahu did meet with Otzma Yehudit faction head Itamar Ben-Gvir, with Likud saying that “significant progress has been made” in the talks between the two.
The two agreed on a number of issues at stake and of importance to the religious Zionist platform:
- The regulation of illegal outposts within 60 days of the establishment of the government.
- Amending the legal status of the Homesh outpost. Homesh holds on its grounds a yeshiva that constantly has students in it.
- Extending the ‘Dromi Law’ to IDF bases to prevent the theft of weapons and munition and to protect soldiers.
- Passing a law establishing a minimum punishment for agricultural crime and “protection.”
- Speeding up the planning and execution of bypass roads within the West Bank as well as the expansion of Route 60, including an NIS 1.5 billion budget.
- Approving previous goverments’ pledge to build a yeshiva and then a settlement on the Evyatar outpost.
If Netanyahu does swear in the government on Wednesday, there is the possibility that it will be with only 57 MKs – leaving out RZP.
Sources close to Ben-Gvir have said that he maintains complete loyalty to the coordinating with Smotrich and believes his political partner’s demands are completely reasonable and justified.
“It is not possible that after the victory and the impressive achievement that the list brought in the elections, the other partners will get the right of way and Smotrich will be pushed to the sidelines,” one of the sources told Maariv. “There is no such scenario.”
Ben-Gvir made this point clear to Netanyahu during their meeting, the source said, adding that as far as Ben-Gvir is concerned, despite the significant advances in negotiations the parties have made, they are only at the halfway point because there are many additional things that he is interested in discussing.
“It’s a negotiation,” Otzma Yehudit regional coordiantor Almog Cohen told 103FM. “In a few days a new government will be sworn in – a right-wing government that will know how to govern here really properly.”
"It's a negotiation, there are always tactics that are used to maximize his power. In my opinion, in a few days a new government will be sworn in, a right-wing government that will know how to govern here really properly."Almog Cohen
Voters from the Negev and Galil demand Ben-Gvir and Smotrich "keep their promises"
A group of RZP voters from the Negev and the Galilee protested as well, demanding Smotrich and Ben-Gvir “fulfill the many promises they made during the election campaign,” including that the Negev and Galilee portfolio go to RZP.
Smotrich and Ben-Gvir promised during the election campaign to put the Negev and Galilee at the top of their priorities – though in practice, during the coalition negotiations, that portfolio has not yet been brought up.
Support for the RZP jumped based on the promises Smotrich and Ben-Gvir made regarding the southern settlements, the group said, and now the residents demand that “they keep their promises.”•