Coalition negotiations impasse continues, Smotrich stands his ground

"We will return to this room, faster than you think," Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in his last meeting before entry of the new government.

 Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu with Shas leader MK Aryeh Deri, Religious Zionist party head MK Bezalel Smotrich and Party leaders at a swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, at the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu with Shas leader MK Aryeh Deri, Religious Zionist party head MK Bezalel Smotrich and Party leaders at a swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, at the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

A flurry of coalition talks on Sunday did not lead to a breakthrough, as RZP chairman Bezalel Smotrich was not willing to back down from his demand to become defense minister.

The Knesset Arrangements Committee approved on Sunday the request by both Otzma Yehudit and Noam to break away from the Religious Zionist Party, after the three ran as one “technical bloc” in the election.

This means that RZP is now down to seven MKs, Otzma Yehudit six and Noam just one. The move was part of the original deal between the parties, but still may have a small psychological effect on the coalition negotiations, as Smotrich went from leading the third largest party to being tied for fifth.

The scheduled meetings on Sunday originally included one between negotiating teams from the Likud and UTJ. The meeting was canceled for unclear reasons, but drafts of agreements went back and forth between the two parties throughout the day, according to Channel 12.

Representatives of the Likud and Noam were also scheduled to meet. Smotrich and UTJ leader Yitzhak Goldknopf met for an hour on Sunday afternoon as well. Both are unhappy with the speed of the negotiations, Army Radio reported.

 Prime Minister Yair Lapid's final cabinet meeting, November 20, 2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) Prime Minister Yair Lapid's final cabinet meeting, November 20, 2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

KAN Radio reported on Sunday that UTJ No. 2 Moshe Gafni took upon himself the role of moderator between Netanyahu, Smotrich and Shas leader Arye Deri.

Gafni began by trying to improve the general atmosphere, and also offered a compromise where Deri and Smotrich would share the Finance Ministry between them in a rotation agreement, with the other serving as interior minister.

Israel Hayom reported on Saturday night that Netanyahu has decided not to give Smotrich the Defense Ministry no matter what, even if it means heading to another election.

It is highly unlikely that this is a real option, but the statement is meant to increase the pressure on Smotrich and make him blink first.

RZP said in response, “It is very bewildering that Netanyahu agreed to give Gantz, Liberman and Bennett the Defense [Ministry] with many fewer seats even though they led a left-wing agenda, but vetoes Smotrich, who stands at the head of a list that received 14 seats and over half a million votes from people who want a real right-wing agenda.”

Smotrich later wrote on Twitter, “It cannot be that every time we do not stand at attention when receiving the Likud’s demands, there will be those who turn us into enemies, incite against us and slander us. RZP is a full partner of the national camp and of the Likud. We will insist on our demands to ensure the formation of a good, stable government as soon as possible, which will do good and lead a true right-wing agenda.”

The tweet was written as a response to a different tweet by a Likud supporter comparing Smotrich to Hamas Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid prepares to depart office

In other news, Prime Minister Yair Lapid led the 36th government’s final weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday morning.

The outgoing government had worked hard for all of the citizens, and managed to achieve an impressive amount in its year and a half of existence, Lapid said at the start of the meeting.

He listed some of it its achievements, including Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s leading the country out of the pandemic without lockdowns; passing a budget and reducing the national debt and unemployment to numbers that are “among the lowest in the country’s history”; raising soldiers’ salaries by 50%; dealing the Islamic Jihad a “heavy blow” during Operation Breaking Dawn, and taking apart the Lions’ Den terrorist group during the ongoing Operation Break the Wave; blocking a nuclear deal between the US and Iran with “smart and precise work” with the Democratic US administration; and the Israel Police’s Operation Safe Track to curb crime in the Arab sector.

“I stop here, although the list goes on,” the prime minister said. “In its short tenure, this government passed 1,613 decisions, in all areas of life – all for the benefit of the citizens of Israel. We did not act only for the benefit of those who chose us. We didn’t work just for the bloc or the camp.

“The Israeli government has a clear role: to protect the state, follow the law, maintain the separation of powers, maintain security and the economy, maintain Israel’s position in the world [and] to preserve Israeli democracy. We met all these tasks with considerable success.

“My fellow ministers, I was honored to serve this country and its citizens together with you. We will return to this room, faster than you think,” Lapid concluded.