Religious Zionist Party (RZP) chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich and Otzma Yehudit faction leader MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is number two on the RZP list, will negotiate with incoming prime minister MK Benjamin Netanyahu as one coordinated bloc, the two announced in a statement on Sunday.
RZP won 14 seats in the election, which will be divided among its three factions: Ichud Leumi-Tekuma led by Smotrich (seven seats), Otzma Yehudit led by Ben-Gvir (six seats) and Noam led by MK Avi Maoz (one seat). Smotrich and Ben-Gvir will thus negotiate as one party with 13 seats – two more than the 11 won by Shas - allowing them to demand the highest ministerial positions.
Unconfirmed reports over the weekend by a number of political correspondents suggested that Netanyahu did not want to give Smotrich any of the three positions considered to be most desirable - defense minister, finance minister or justice minister.
However, remaining a united bloc with Ben-Gvir will give Smotrich more leverage to demand either the Finance Ministry or the Defense Ministry portfolios.
The announcement came on Sunday during the first of Netanyahu's meetings with the upcoming coalition faction heads. These include United Torah Judaism's Lithuanian Degel Hatorah Faction leader MK Moshe Gafni, as well as head of the Hasidic Agudat Yisrael faction Yizhak Goldknopf, as well as Shas leader Arye Deri and RZP's Smotrich and Maoz.
His meeting with Ben-Gvir was postponed until Monday, however, since the Otzma Yehudit leader is on vacation in Eilat until then.
Shas and the Religious Zionist Party feud over the Religious Services Ministry
In other news, Shas and RZP are in a battle over the Religious Services Ministry, Deri was overheard saying to Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yizhak Yosef at the rabbi's weekly Saturday night lesson.
"We saw in the Chief Rabbinate over the past year what was ruined on the subject of Kashrut [Jewish dietary laws]," Yosef said later in his speech. "Conversion needs to be fixed so that everything will be according to halakha [Jewish Law]."Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef
"We saw in the Chief Rabbinate over the past year what was ruined on the subject of Kashrut [Jewish dietary laws]," Yosef said later in his speech. "Conversion needs to be fixed so that everything will be according to halakha [Jewish Law]," Yosef added. In addition to the Religious Services Ministry, Yosef also mentioned the Interior Ministry and Finance Ministry as important ministries.
Although officially politically unaffiliated, Yosef is the son of deceased Shas spiritual leader and former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and was Shas' candidate for chief rabbi of Jerusalem in 2012.
Former religious services minister Matan Kahana of National Unity, who initiated the kashrut reform, responded on Twitter.
"If the Religious Zionist Party (14 [seats]) concedes the Religious Services Ministry to Shas (11), it will prove what I said throughout the campaign. In everything related to religion and state, Smotrich will toe Deri's line and hand over the complete treatment of these issues. I wish I am wrong," Kahana wrote.
The requisite round of consultations by President Isaac Herzog with representatives of each party over who will form the next government will begin on Wednesday, the President's director-general wrote in an official letter. Herzog will then have seven days to award the mandate, in this case surely to Netanyahu.