Likud, Smotrich close to signing coalition agreement

Yesh Atid CEO demanded in a letter that the Likud must publish all of the agreements it signed so far with other parties during coalition negotiations.

 LIKUD PARTY head Benjamin Netanyahu, Oct. 3. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
LIKUD PARTY head Benjamin Netanyahu, Oct. 3.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

The Likud and the Religious Zionist Party are on the verge of signing a coalition agreement, according to multiple reports.

An agreement between Likud and RZP is a major step forward that could create a domino effect, leading the two other parties who have not yet signed – United Torah Judaism and Shas – to do so in the coming days.

Likud requested to wait with the official signing until a few points were clarified with other coalition parties, Maariv reported.

The final agreements will reportedly include complex rotations between a number of ministries.

What do the coalition agreements say?

According to Channel 13, RZP chairman Bezalel Smotrich will serve first as finance minister until 2025, while Shas chairman Arye Deri will serve as both interior and health minister. In 2025, the two will switch, with Smotrich taking the Interior portfolio.

 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)

Instead of receiving the Health Ministry from Shas, however, in 2025, RZP will receive another ministry that until then will be in the hands of a Likud member – either the Transportation Ministry or the Education Ministry. That member of Likud will then receive the Health Ministry from Shas, completing a three-way rotation.

RZP will also receive the Community Affairs Ministry, the Aliyah and Integration Ministry and chairmanship of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, according to Channel 13.

The report added that Smotrich, as finance minister, will receive full control of the Civil Administration, the governing body in the West Bank. The Civil Authority is subordinate to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, a unit in the Defense Ministry.

Finally, RZP will receive guarantees for changes within the Education Ministry connected to religious-Zionist ideals, as well as certain guarantees in the Religious Services Ministry regarding appointments of religious-Zionist rabbis and rabbinical judges, according to the Channel 13 report.

However, the two parties later said, “the publications about the ministerial portfolios are inaccurate, and we propose to wait for an orderly report once the agreement is signed.”

Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovsky criticized the agreements, writing on Twitter that they were “one big joke at our expense.”

“No one there intends to advance large projects and revolutionary long-term plans. You spoke about governance? A rotation of the Finance and Transportation ministries is anything but governance. This government has not even started and it already looks shoddy,” Malinovsky wrote.

Peace Now responded to the intention to move the Civil Administration from the Defense to the Finance Ministry, “This is a step towards annexation that is intended to serve the narrow interest of the settler-messianic sector. The army is the sovereign in occupied territory, and passing on responsibilities to civil bodies indicates a shift from creeping annexation to accelerated annexation.”

Contrary to negotiations with RZP, the negotiations between Likud and UTJ have not progressed. The party’s representative in the Central Elections Committee, lawyer Avraham Yostman, said on Galey Israel Radio that he “was hearing rumors about signing [an agreement] by Monday,” but that he thought there was only a 30% chance of this happening.

“There is clumsy management of the negotiations. There is condescension. There is a feeling that we are in their [the Likud’s] pockets,” Yostman said.

True to Wednesday afternoon, UTJ was the only party of the incoming coalition whose members refrained from signing a request to convene the Knesset plenum to replace the Knesset speaker. Without UTJ, the incoming coalition does not have the necessary 61 votes and cannot file the request. This is blocking the coalition from initiating legislation that it wishes to pass before the government is sworn in.

The Likud on Friday signed an agreement with Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben-Gvir, which will put him in charge of the National Security Ministry, a newly named expanded version of the Public Security Ministry.

The parties deemed the agreement a “jobs appendix,” and only a part of a full agreement that has yet to be signed and will include “budgets, substantive issues and fundamental guidelines.” The appendix was published in full on Tuesday.

The expanded ministry will receive jurisdiction over the following units, which are currently parts of other government ministries: The Judea and Samaria Border Police Division; the Real Estate Enforcement Division responsible for combating planning and construction offenses and serving as a professional guide for enforcement at the municipal level; the Green Police, responsible for oversight, deterrence and enforcement of environmental laws; and a unit known as the Green Rangers, which enforces an array of land-related laws such as the illegal takeover of state-owned land.

The Likud also reached an agreement with Noam on Sunday. The central elements of the agreement included Noam chairman Avi Maoz becoming a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, responsible for Nativ (Liaison Bureau), a unit that assists Jews from the former Soviet Union seeking to move to Israel, and of a new branch responsible for Jewish-national identity. The full agreement with Maoz has not yet been published.

Yesh Atid faction head MK Boaz Toporovsky demanded in a letter to Likud faction head MK Yariv Levin on Tuesday that the Likud must immediately publish all of the agreements it has signed so far.

Toporovsky noted that the law stipulates that any coalition agreement must be handed to the Knesset secretary within three days of its signing. The Likud violated this law when it published the full agreement with Otzma Yehudit four days after its signing, and appears to be violating it again regarding other agreements that the public does not yet know about, Toporovsky argued in the letter.

Levin responded with a letter of his own, accusing Toporovsky of “hypocrisy and double standards” and claimed that the outgoing government did not do as they now demanded. Levin added that the agreement with Otzma Yehudit was not final and that he had therefore not been required by law to publish it, but did so anyway to promote transparency.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid “apologized” on Wednesday for the state of the country at a commemoration of first prime minister David Ben-Gurion.

“I did not come here today to mourn Ben-Gurion but to apologize to him. What is happening today in Israel is the opposite of what he believed in and of every edict he left us,” Lapid said.

He accused the incoming government of attempting to “ruin Israel’s democracy,” which besides majority rule also included “protecting the minority from the majority, separation of government branches and independence of the courts, free speech and telling the truth.”

Lapid said that contrary to the new government, he believed in these things.

“We are Zionists, we believe in the Declaration of Independence, we believe in a Jewish and democratic state [and] we believe in the rule of law,” he said.

Ben-Gvir said in response that Ben-Gurion was “a patriot who repeated over and over again the importance of the justness of the cause and of the land of Israel.

“If Ben-Gurion would arise from the dead today, Lapid’s ideology in his eyes would be shallow and corrupt, while what I represent, war over this land, over the homeland and over ideals, is precisely what would have charmed him.