Coalition negotiations resume as Knesset set to begin operating

Benjamin Netanyahu had hoped to swear in the coalition at the Knesset inauguration but was unable to form a coalition in time.

 BENJAMIN NETANYAHU gives a press conference as prime minister in April 2021. He’ll likely be returning to familiar turf. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU gives a press conference as prime minister in April 2021. He’ll likely be returning to familiar turf.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Coalition negotiations picked up steam on Tuesday evening following the Knesset inauguration ceremony, after stalling during the past week. Party leaders took advantage of being under the same roof to launch a number of meetings.

First to meet after the ceremony were Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu and Religious Zionism Party chairman Bezalel Smotrich. Netanyahu then met with United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni and Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, Channel 12 reported.

Representatives of Shas also met with Likud negotiators, according to Israel Hayom.

Smotrich reportedly has been the main obstacle in the talks, as he is demanding the position of defense minister, while Netanyahu prefers to give the position to an experienced MK from his own party.

Netanyahu told Smotrich in their meeting that this was because “moderate conduct” was needed on security issues until the end of the Biden administration, Channel 12 reported.

 The Knesset building, home of Israel's legislature, in Jerusalem, on November 14, 2022 (Illustrative). (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) The Knesset building, home of Israel's legislature, in Jerusalem, on November 14, 2022 (Illustrative). (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Smotrich’s demand to receive the Defense Ministry came after Shas leader Arye Deri on Sunday said he would demand the Finance Ministry.

The haredi daily Yated Ne’eman, which is affiliated with the Lithuanian Degel Hatorah faction led by Gafni, published an editorial on Tuesday, attacking Smotrich for demanding the job, even though he “represents a specific sector whose security and/or economic views are not in line with the needs of the general public of the State of Israel,” adding that he was doing so “even though he has no more than seven members of the Knesset behind him, and it is doubtful that he would have been able to get even those if he had run independently.”

The article was referring to the seven MKs from RZP out of the 14 in the joint RZP-Otzma Yehudit-Noam list, hinting that Ben-Gvir was the one who was responsible for the list’s success in the election.

The paper later clarified that the article was the opinion of the person who wrote it and not of the party, and Gafni said he was not aware of the plan to publish it.

Outgoing Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said at a press conference ahead of his Yisrael Beytenu’s party’s faction meeting that appointing Smotrich as defense minister would harm Israel’s national security. This is because reports emerged earlier this week that the US would not fully cooperate with Smotrich, nor with Ben-Gvir, who is slated to become public security minister. Any decrease in security cooperation would harm Israel’s safety, Liberman said.

Irrespective of the coalition negotiations, the Knesset will now begin to operate independently. This will begin on Wednesday, as the largest party, Likud, is responsible to choose one of its members to lead the Arrangements Committee, which has the authority to form important interim Knesset committees, such as the Finance and Foreign Affairs and Defense committees.

The Arrangements Committee will have 19 members, 10 from the coalition and nine from the opposition, and the Likud on Tuesday said its chairman would be MK Yoav Kisch.

The committee will likely nominate Gafni as head of the interim Finance Committee and MK Yoav Gallant as head of the interim Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, according to Israel Hayom.

What bills are the parties pushing for?

Various parties announced that immediately after the inauguration ceremony they put forward a number of bills. While bills put forward by future coalition members have a fair chance of eventually becoming law, bills by opposition parties have far less of a chance, and sometimes they are intended instead to embarrass the coalition by forcing it to oppose them.

UTJ MK Uri Maklev said he had put forward a number of proposals, including a discount on water bills for weakened population groups; a tax exemption for life-saving medications; and lengthening maternity/paternity leave for parents of babies who were born prematurely.

National Unity said it put forward a proposition to add the “value of equality” to Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty; limit the term of a prime minister; and the Defendant’s Law, which says that a person may not serve as president, prime minister or minister if he or she has been indicted and is in legal procedures.

Labor said it put forward bills “dealing with the cost of living, religion and state and the rule of law,” including raising the minimum wage to NIS 40 an hour; allowing public transportation on Shabbat; giving fathers full paternity leave; and legalizing civil marriage.

“The Labor faction has come to work and to work hard,” Labor leader and outgoing Transportation Minister MK Merav Michaeli said in a statement.

“We are here, a fighting opposition, to promote and fight for what is really important to you in life,” she said. “The Labor faction is the only Zionist democratic faction in the Israeli Knesset. If the next government blocks our proposals, it will in effect be denying the Israeli people their most basic rights and be preventing the critical steps needed to deal with the cost of living.”

Liberman said Yisrael Beytenu’s first bill would be to apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley, a move intended to challenge the new coalition whether it was really as right-wing as it proclaimed to be.

He also warned that the upcoming government would be an “Ayatollah government” and will involve “religious priests” who will make political decisions,

Liberman said rabbis directed UTJ to insist on the Override Clause, and rabbis directed Smotrich to insist on the Defense Ministry. This shows that “religious priests” are forcing political decisions, and [that] is unacceptable, he said.

At another press conference, Hadash-Ta’al MK Ahmad Tibi said his party would serve as a home for Jewish voters on the Left who felt they were not represented in the Knesset, hinting to people who voted for Meretz, which did not pass the electoral threshold.