Netanyahu requests extension for mandate to form coalition

Deri will take over as finance minister from Religious Zionists head MK Bezalel Smotrich in the second half of the government's term.

 Likud head MK Benjamin Netanyahu is seen receiving the mandate to form Israel's next government from Israeli President Isaac Herzog. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Likud head MK Benjamin Netanyahu is seen receiving the mandate to form Israel's next government from Israeli President Isaac Herzog.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu filed a request to President Isaac Herzog to extend his mandate to form a coalition for an additional two weeks on Thursday evening. Netanyahu's mandate is set to end on Sunday.

In the request, Netanyahu noted that all the factions set to be in the next coalition have signed appendices or letters concerning the division of positions in the 37th government.

The Likud leader noted that there are matters concerning the positions that have not yet been settled, as both Shas and United Torah Judaism have only signed letters, not legal agreements, concerning the positions. Netanyahu added that all the factions are also demanding that a full coalition agreement including fundamental principles be signed before they form a government.

The prime minister-designate wrote that there has been significant progress in the negotiations with the factions, but added that due to the slow rate of progress he would need the entire 14-day extension in order to form a coalition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Shas chairman Aryeh Deri. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Shas chairman Aryeh Deri. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Early on Thursday morning, the Likud and Shas announced that they had reached understandings concerning the positions and ministries the ultra-Orthodox party is set to receive in the next government.

The letter signed by the parties stipulates that Shas chairman MK Arye Deri will become both health and interior minister for the first half of Likud chairman and prime minister-designate MK Benjamin Netanyahu's government's tenure, and for the second half he will take over the Finance Ministry from Religious Zionist Party chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich.

Deri will also serve as deputy prime minister for the full term.

In addition to Deri's offices, Shas will also receive the Religious Affairs Ministry and the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry. Furthermore, Shas - which is the second-largest party in Netanyahu's coalition after the Likud - will receive two additional ministerial positions: a minister in Deri's Interior Ministry and a minister within the Education Ministry.

Deri still legally blocked from holding ministry

The understandings assume that Deri can serve as a minister, but this is legally contentious.

Deri resigned from the previous Knesset as part of a January plea bargain that saw him convicted and sentenced to suspended jail time. If the Central Election Committee chairman, High Court justice Yitzhak Amit, rules that his actions constituted moral turpitude, Deri will be legally barred from serving as a minister for seven years.

The incoming coalition will thus begin next week to fast-track a change to the law so that it only applies to actual, not suspended, jail sentences.

Netanyahu's coalition 

Shas is the fifth and final of the Likud's coalition partners to sign an agreement or letter concerning the distribution of positions in the next government. While the rest of the factions signed appendices to a future coalition deal, both Shas and United Torah Judaism only signed letters signaling their agreement with the positions. Netanyahu now will distribute the remaining ministries to members of his own party. These include the foreign, education, transportation, energy, culture and sports and other ministries.

Netanyahu began to hold one-on-one meetings with the Likud's Knesset members on Wednesday in order to hear from them which ministry or Knesset committee role they wished to fill.

Despite the job agreements, the Likud still has to sign final agreements with all of its partners, which include ideological guidelines and legislative plans. These may still take time. Netanyahu's 28 days to form a government will expire on Sunday at midnight, and he is widely expected to request an extension.

As part of its demands for the final coalition agreement, United Torah Judaism is demanding that a law be passed to prevent Haredim from being drafted. Gafni hinted towards the demand on Thursday, stating "in a Jewish state it is impossible not to have an army of Torah scholars. Half of the people will learn Torah and half will go to the army and then switch. Just as a person cannot serve in both the air force and the navy, so too the yeshiva students cannot do both."

Bill to transfer police chief's powers to Ben-Gvir submitted to Knesset Secretariat

A bill that will transfer some of the powers of the chief of police to Itamar Ben-Gvir once he becomes national security minister was revealed on Thursday evening after it was submitted to the Knesset Secretariat.

The bill states that the chief of police will "manage the police in accordance with the general policy and principles outlined by the minister," transferring control over police policy to the minister.

While the minister will be unable to decide on opening or closing cases he will be able to decide on the general investigation and prosecution policy. For example, Ben-Gvir will be able to determine that prayer on the Temple Mount will not lead to prosecution, among other matters.

Outgoing Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev warned that "Israel Police will become a political and mediocre police that will be run by inexperienced and irresponsible hands; lose any vestige of public trust; and it will experience professional deterioration, damage to its ability to fight crime and corruption and the flight of excellent officers who will not want to be suckers for politicians."

"Behind the empty slogans of 'strengthening the police' - these are measures whose purpose is to further undermine the authority of the senior command and the status of the police, and to hell with the country. We will all pay the price," added Bar Lev.