Smotrich, Gafni refuse Netanyahu offer for two-stage coalition agreement - report

Smotrich demands an override clause with a regular majority.

Benjamin Netanyahu and MK Moshe Gafni (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Benjamin Netanyahu and MK Moshe Gafni
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Religious Zionist Party chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich and United Torah Judaism's Lithuanian Degel Hatorah faction leader MK Moshe Gafni refused a request by incoming prime minister MK Benjamin Netanyahu to form a coalition in two stages, first a "narrow" coalition agreement only about ministerial and parliamentary positions, and only after swearing in a government an agreement on policy, KAN and Walla reported on Monday.

Netanyahu put forward the proposal to both party leaders during meetings he held with them on Sunday. The proposal's rationale is to get Prime Minister Yair Lapid's cabinet out of power as soon as possible, according to Walla. The Likud did not respond to a request by The Jerusalem Post to confirm the report.

Both Smotrich and Gafni refused and insisted that they will not agree to a government without there being an agreed-upon policy framework. The two met later on Sunday in the Knesset in order to coordinate their opposition to Netanyahu's proposal, according to KAN. Otzma Yehudit faction leader MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu on Monday afternoon, will likely also oppose the proposal, KAN added.

Override clause

One of the demands put forward by Gafni and Smotrich was to agree as part of any agreement to an "Override Clause" that will grant the Knesset the ability to override High Court rulings that strike down laws. Netanyahu requested that the two not talk about the issue publicly and "wait with it," KAN reported.

Smotrich reportedly demanded that the Override Clause apply in any Knesset majority, and not require 61 votes. Smotrich's spokesperson refused to comment on the discussion itself but said that "an Override Clause with a regular majority is something Smotrich has been proposing for years."

 Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks next to Head of opposition Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting with the opposition parties at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, on June 28, 2021.  (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks next to Head of opposition Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting with the opposition parties at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, on June 28, 2021. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The daily newspaper Hamevaser, affiliated with UTJ's Agudat Yisrael faction MK Meir Porush, reported on Monday that its spiritual leadership, the Council of Great Torah Sages, instructed its representatives to legislate an Override Clause, "to prevent thwarting decisions and laws that will be enacted, for the protection of the holiness of Israel and the rights of the Torah-observing public, which until now have been maliciously trampled upon." However, the report did not say whether this would be a necessary precondition for any coalition agreement.

The Council instructed its negotiators, Porush and Agudat Yisrael chairman Yizhak Goldknopf, to demand "the return of the status quo, before its reduction began."

This "reduction" included the "severe deterioration in the attitude towards the holiness of Israel, the holy Sabbath, the decree of forced conscription, observing Kashrut [Jewish dietary laws] … conversion, the holiness of the Western Wall, baked goods on Passover and more, especially during the Malicious Government," a reference to the Bennett-Lapid government of the past 17 months.

The Council also demanded that in the base of the next budget, haredi schools, teachers, Torah study academies (Yeshivot), welfare and culture will receive equal pay and "no longer be discriminated against," as well as to do everything possible to solve the haredi housing crisis.