Netanyahu, Smotrich make progress in late three-hour meeting

Benjamin Netanyahu's intent is to carry on the momentum after the first coalition agreement was signed late Thursday night.

 BEZALEL SMOTRICH comments to Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset inauguration, last Tuesday (photo credit: OLIVER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
BEZALEL SMOTRICH comments to Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset inauguration, last Tuesday
(photo credit: OLIVER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Progress was made in coalition negotiations between prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud and Religious Zionist Party chairman Bezalel Smotrich, they said following a three-hour meeting late on Sunday night.

The meeting was held in "good spirits" and progress was made on all fronts, the factions announced.

Earlier on Sunday, the Likud signed a coalition agreement with Noam in which the party’s one and only MK will serve as a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of the new “National-Jewish Identity Department.”

MK Avi Maoz will also take charge of “Nativ,” a body within the Prime Minister’s Office charged with liaising with Jewish communities mainly in the former Soviet Union, Maoz’s spokesman confirmed.

The organization can determine the eligibility of people wishing to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return.

The agreement was the second signed so far, after the Likud and Otzma Yehudit signed an agreement late Thursday night. Sunday marked the halfway point in the 28 days allotted to Netanyahu to form a government.

 MK Avi Maoz attends a discussion at  the Knesset, at the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, on November 22, 2022.  (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) MK Avi Maoz attends a discussion at the Knesset, at the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, on November 22, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

It was initially unclear which organization was involved, as there is another organization of the same name in the IDF that oversees Jewish conversions.

This prompted Yesh Atid to respond with a statement that said: “From today, according to Netanyahu and Maoz, there are Type A Jews and Type B Jews. The conversions by Nativ, which until today acted mostly on behalf of IDF soldiers, has been abandoned to an extremist and racist who will decide for us who is a Jew and who isn’t. From Avi Maoz’s perspective, those soldiers are worthy enough to die in the IDF but unworthy of being Jews.”

“From today, according to Netanyahu and Maoz, there are Type A Jews and Type B Jews. The conversions by Nativ, which until today acted mostly on behalf of IDF soldiers, has been abandoned to an extremist and racist who will decide for us who is a Jew and who isn’t. From Avi Maoz’s perspective, those soldiers are worthy enough to die in the IDF but unworthy of being Jews.”

Yesh Atid

Defense Minister Benny Gantz wrote on Twitter: “This is not Jewish identity – it is racist identity. We will fight Netanyahu’s racist government with all of the tools at hand.”

“This is not Jewish identity – it is racist identity. We will fight Netanyahu’s racist government with all of the tools at hand.”

Benny Gantz

The Reform Movement said in response, “We would like to remind the incoming new department head that there is more than one way to be Jewish. And Avi Maoz, who received a job laden with funds from the prime minister-elect, will not decide for millions of Jews in Israel and the Diaspora what those ways are.”

Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu met on Sunday at the Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv with all six of the parties expected to make up the incoming coalition.

The six were Smotrich, Shas chairman Arye Deri,, Unitd Torah Judaism chairman Yitzhak Goldknopf, Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben-Gvir and Noam chairman Maoz.

The Likud initially wanted to meet separately with UTJ No. 2 and leader of the Degel Hatorah faction Moshe Gafni, but Gafni and Goldknopf made it clear that they would only arrive if they were invited together.

The lengthy meeting with the UTJ representatives did not lead to a breakthrough, Maariv reported.

The agreement between the Likud and Otzma Yehudit was only on the jobs that each of the latter’s members are to receive in the incoming government. These came in addition to agreements on fundamental right-wing issues that were announced on November 17, including the regulation of illegal West Bank outposts.

However, a final agreement that includes “budgets, substantive issues and fundamental guidelines” has yet to be signed, Otzma Yehudit and the Likud said in a joint statement on Friday.

Israeli coalition negotiations continue

Netanyahu is reportedly close to signing an agreement with Shas, but the negotiations with UTJ and RZP are further away.

UTJ’s demands include the Construction and Housing Ministry, the Transportation Ministry, the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry, a deputy Education Ministry position and to chair the Knesset Finance Committee, according to a source from the party.

Walla reported on Saturday evening that according to sources from Shas, Deri had made a final decision and will relinquish his demand for the Finance Ministry and instead serve as both interior and health minister in the new government. The report did not specify if this will be as part of a rotation agreement with Smotrich or not.

Deri currently needs the approval of the Central Elections Committee head High Court Justice Yitzhak Amit to serve as a minister. Deri was sentenced in January to a 12-month suspended jail sentence for tax offenses as part of a plea bargain, and if Amit rules that these actions include moral turpitude, Deri cannot serve as a minister for seven years. Shas MK Yakov Asher already put forward a proposal to change the law so that it only applies to actual, and not suspended, jail sentences.

Shas will likely also receive the Religious Services Ministry, the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry and the Ministry for the Development of the Periphery. The latter currently also includes development of the Negev and Galilee, but the ministry will be broken into two, with the Negev and Galilee portfolio going to Otzma Yehudit.

According to the agreement between Otzma Yehudit and the Likud, the former will also receive an expanded public security ministry, which is to be renamed the “National Security Ministry” and include a number of law enforcement units currently under other ministries, chiefly among them the Judea and Samaria Border Police division; the Heritage Ministry, which will be split from the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry; a deputy economy minister; and chairmanship of both the Knesset’s Public Security Committee and for half of the Knesset’s term of the Special Committee for the Israeli Citizens’ Fund.

According to KAN, Netanyahu’s goal is to sign agreements with all of the parties except for Smotrich, in order to pressure the RZP leader to make concessions or face being blamed for the delayed negotiations.

The disagreements between Smotrich and Netanyahu are also delaying the Right’s ability to control legislation in the Knesset, since Smotrich so far has not agreed to replace the Knesset speaker, a move that requires 61 votes.

KAN reported over the weekend that outgoing speaker MK Mickey Levy has not received a request yet to convene the Knesset plenum to choose a new speaker. Levy said that when he does receive such a request, he intends to take up to a week to actually hold the vote.

Despite the disagreements, Smotrich said on Sunday that he had “full confidence” that with “God’s help there will be a government in the next few days.”

Yesh Atid on Sunday held a meeting to plan its fight against the override clause and the “threat against Israel’s legal system.”

The override clause is a provision that will enable the Knesset to overturn rulings made by the High Court. The incoming coalition will attempt to allow this with a majority of just 61 MKs, effectively giving the ruling coalition the power to overturn all rulings.

“The incoming government is trying to change the rules of the game,” said Lapid at the meeting.

“The message that they are trying to pass is that they are allowed to do anything they want. Our beliefs and values are not something that they can trample and expect us to remain silent,” Lapid said.

“The big weapon is what we believe in and the knowledge that we are fighting for our country and for our children’s future,” he added.