The 25th Knesset will be sworn in on Tuesday

The talks have stalled because of disagreements between Smotrich and Netanyahu over which ministry Smotrich will receive.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and MK Bezalel Smotrich (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and MK Bezalel Smotrich
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The 25th Knesset will be sworn in today, beginning at 4 p.m. in the Knesset plenum, officially bringing to a close the 24th Knesset and sending many outgoing MKs home.

Twenty-eight new MKs will be entering this Knesset: seven from Likud, five from Otzma Yehudit, three from Yesh Atid, two from the Religious Zionist Party (RZP), two from Ra’am and one each from National Unity, United Torah Judaism (UTJ), Yisrael Beytenu and Shas.

The new MKs underwent an orientation on Monday, were photographed for their official portraits, received lectures about the Knesset’s different functions and became acquainted with the building and with their seat in the plenum.

Negotiations over coalition agreements have slowed and stalled, as Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) and RZP chairman Bezalel Smotrich have not spoken since Wednesday, Channel 12 reported.

Representatives of UTJ have not met with their Likud counterparts since Wednesday, the Knesset Channel reported.

This is due to disagreements between Smotrich and Netanyahu over which ministry Smotrich will receive. Smotrich is reportedly insisting on receiving the Defense Ministry, after Shas chairman Arye Deri said Shas would take the Finance Ministry.

Netanyahu is also considering former Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer for the position of foreign minister. He reportedly does not want Smotrich to be the defense minister since the Likud has at least two highly qualified MKs, Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Yoav Gallant and former Shin Bet director Avi Dichter. Smotrich served in the IDF for 16 months in a noncombat role and has little experience otherwise.

Smotrich's insistence on the Defense Ministry was bolstered on Sunday night after a leading group of religious-Zionist rabbis encouraged him to “insist unequivocally and uncompromisingly on the job of defense minister,” according to RZP.

Why do they want Smotrich to be Defense Minister?

Religious Zionist party head MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks at the plenium hall during memorial ceremony marking 27 years since the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem on November 6, 2022 (credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON/FLASH90)Religious Zionist party head MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks at the plenium hall during memorial ceremony marking 27 years since the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem on November 6, 2022 (credit: NOAM REVKIN FENTON/FLASH90)

Leading group of religious-Zionist rabbis insist on Defence Ministry for Smotrich

It released the statement following a meeting between Smotrich and the group of rabbis hosted by Rabbi Haim Druckman, head of the Bnei Akiva yeshivot and seminaries. The reason to insist on the Defense Ministry was “to strengthen Israel’s safety, the spirit of the IDF, to prevent the formation of a Palestinian state and to regulate the settlement of Judea and Samaria,” the rabbis said.

They also requested that Smotrich insist on receiving the Education and Religious Affairs ministries, as “there was utmost importance that the religious Zionists lead the activity for the country’s Jewish character in the spirit of the Torah of the Land of Israel,” the statement said.

“Torah of the Land of Israel” is a phrase that denotes a philosophy formulated by Israel’s first chief rabbi, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook, which views Zionism as the beginning of the process of messianic redemption.The rabbis also “personally called” on Netanyahu to “acknowledge the strength, value and partnership of the Religious Zionist Party, which received the trust of over half a million voters and received 14 seats,” according to the statement.

Among the rabbis who participated in the meeting were Yaakov Ariel, former chief rabbi of Ramat Gan; David Chai Hacohen, dean of the Orot Hatorah Yeshiva in Bat Yam; Yehoshua Shapira, dean of the Ramat Gan Hesder Yeshiva (combining yeshiva studies and military service); and Haim Gantz, dean of the Ma’aleh Eliyahu Yeshiva.

One of the other attendees was Rabbi Yigal Levenstein from the Eli premilitary academy, according to a RZP source. His name did not appear on the list of attendees sent out by the party, possibly because he has made controversial statements in the past against the LGBTQ community, calling them “perverted.”

The demand to receive the Defense Ministry reflected RZP’s position that if Deri receive one of the two top positions, Smotrich should receive the other.

Both Shas and RZP also covet the Religious Affairs Ministry, and it is unclear if RZP’s demand to receive both the Defense and Religious Affairs ministries will be granted.

Smotrich met with UTJ leader Yitzhak Goldknopf on Monday for a “work, coordination and cooperation” meeting ahead of the formation of the new government, according to a RZP statement.

The Likud and Otzma Yehudit’s negotiating teams also met on Monday, Walla reported.