Religious Zionist Party chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich and No. 2 on the RZP list, Otzma Yehudit faction leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, will negotiate with presumptive prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as one coordinated bloc, the two announced in a statement on Sunday.
RZP won 14 seats in the election, comprised of three factions: Ichud Leumi-Tekuma led by Smotrich (which will receive 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 – more than Shas which won 11 – which will allow 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 what are considered the top three ministerial positions: Defense, Finance and Justice.
The bloc with Ben-Gvir will give Smotrich more leverage to demand either the Finance or the Defense Ministry.
The announcement came on Sunday during the first of Netanyahu’s meetings with heads of the upcoming coalition faction. Besides Smotrich, these included United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni, head of the Lithuanian Degel Hatorah faction, Yitzhak Goldknopf, head of the Hassidic Agudat Yisrael faction and Arye Deri of Shas.
The meeting with Ben Gvir was postponed until Monday since the Otzma Yehudit leader was on vacation in Eilat. Netanyahu is also expected to meet separately with Noam head MK Avi Maoz
Smotrich and Gafni also met on Sunday in the Knesset to discuss the upcoming government.
In other news, Shas and RZP are in a battle over the Religious Affairs Ministry, Deri was overheard telling Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak 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, adding that “Conversion needs to be fixed so that everything will be according to halacha [Jewish Law].” In addition to the Religious Affairs 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 Affairs Minister Matan Kahana of National Unity, who initiated the kashrut reforms, responded on Twitter.
“If the Religious Zionist Party (14 [seats]) concedes the Religious Affairs Ministry to Shas (11), it will prove what I said throughout the campaign,” Kahana wrote. “In everything related to religion and state, Smotrich will toe Deri’s line and hand over the complete treatment of these issues. I hope I am wrong.”
President Isaac Herzog will receive the official results of the Knesset elections on Wednesday, after which, as stipulated by law, he will begin the round of consultations with parties elected to the 25th Knesset.
Unlike similar meetings conducted by Herzog's predecessor Reuven Rivlin, these consultations are expected to proceed very quickly, as it is already known that the MK who will receive the most recommendations and who is most likely to succeed in forming a government, will be Netanyahu.
Unlike similar meetings conducted by Herzog’s predecessor Reuven Rivlin, these consultations are expected to proceed very quickly, as it is already known that the MK who will receive the most recommendations and who is most likely to succeed in forming a government is Netanyahu.
What will happen at the Israeli political party talks with the president?
On Sunday, Eyal Shviki, director-general of the President’s Office, sent invitations to the various parliamentary groups, informing them that consultations will begin on Wednesday.
The consultations will be broadcast live on social media platforms as well as on traditional broadcasting outlets.
Once the consultations are completed, Herzog will announce the name of the MK whom he will task to form a government.