Netanyahu informs Herzog, public of ability to form new gov't

Despite Netanyahu's announcement, the coalition agreements with UTJ's Degel HaTorah and Agudat Yisrael were not finalized as of Thursday midnight.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to his supporters after the exit polls were announced for the election of the 24th Knesset, March 24, 2021. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to his supporters after the exit polls were announced for the election of the 24th Knesset, March 24, 2021.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called President Isaac Herzog late on Wednesday night to announce he has successfully formed a government, nearly 40 days after the Likud chairman received the mandate to form a government from Herzog, taking the deadline down the wire.

Netanyahu told Herzog that the new government, which will be comprised of the Likud, Religious Zionists Party (RZP), Shas, United Torah Judaism (UTJ), Otzma Yehudit and Noam factions, will work for "all Israeli citizens," a statement published by the Likud noted.

Despite Netanyahu's announcement, the coalition agreements with UTJ's Degel HaTorah and Agudat Yisrael were not finalized as of Thursday midnight, adding to Israeli reports claiming the agreement with Shas was also not completed on Wednesday.

RZP chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich appeared to confirm the announcement of a government late on Wednesday night in a tweet, minutes before Netanyahu's official announcement.

Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu announces the formation of Israel's new government in a phone call with President Isaac Herzog on December 21, 2022 (LIKUD)

Knesset speaker Likud MK Yariv Levin was expected to make an official announcement to the Knesset plenum when it next convenes on Monday, and to then set a session within a week, in which the government - if formed - will present its guidelines, makeup and distribution of roles. This session will conclude with a vote over the government’s formation, and if it passes – the government officially takes power. 

The latest date for Netanyahu to take over was supposed to be Monday, January 2, but the incoming coalition will try to swear in the government by the end of next week, according to multiple reports.

Plans in motion for new Netanyahu government

The makeup, guidelines and official coalition agreements only need to be published 48 hours ahead of the final plenum debate. Therefore, despite Netanyahu’s announcements, the public will likely have to wait another week before it sees the final agreements.

In any case, Netanyahu will likely wait until all of the laws the incoming coalition is currently working to expedite through the legislative process.

1. An amendment to the Knesset Law, that cancels the clause that enabled four MKs to break away from an existing party and form a new party of their own. This bill passed into law on Monday.

2. An amendment of the Police Law to allow incoming national security minister and Otzma Yehudit chairman MK Itamar Ben-Gvir to gain wider control over many aspects of policing.

3. Two amendments to the Basic Law, the Government, which are being debated together in an ad-hoc committee led by Likud MK Shlomo Karhi:

• The “Deri Law,” which would enable Shas chairman MK Arye Deri to serve as a minister despite his conviction for tax offenses.

• The “Smotrich Law,” to enable RZP chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich to serve as a second minister in the defense ministry with responsibility for civilian matters in the West Bank.

This amendment to the Police Law passed its first reading in the Knesset plenum on Tuesday afternoon in a 63-53 vote. It returned on Wednesday to the ad-hoc committee led by Likud MK Ofir Katz for debate ahead of its second and third readings.

The law's goal is to regulate the division of power between the police commissioner and the minister who oversees him. It dictates that the commissioner is answerable to the government and is subordinate to the minister. In mitigation, it also determines that the commissioner is the highest commanding rank in the police.

According to the bill's current formulation, the law grants the national security minister control over the police policy and “general principles” for its operation.

The minister will also “outline a general policy regarding investigations, including the determination of general priorities, after hearing the position of the Attorney-General and after consultation with the commissioner and police officers in charge of investigations.” The minister may also outline policy regarding the duration of the treatment of cases, under similar conditions.

As part of the agreements revealed late on Wednesday night, the Likud and UTJ also finalized a deal for the government to alter the funding system for Israeli educational institutions.

In current Israeli law, schools that are considered “recognized but not official” receive 75% of the funding awarded to state schools, while schools that are completely private receive 55% of that funding. Those private schools are not required to teach core studies. In reality, the percentages are equated to only part of what state schools receive, so the gap in funding between state schools and other schools is actually larger.

This will be rectified under the new agreement, the Likud said. Haredi politicians previously argued that all the agreement calls for was for the state to respect the law and grant the private schools what they are due: 55% out of the entire sum that state schools are awarded.

Some of the clauses included in Likud's reported agreement with Otzma Yehdut include the expansion of the 'Dromi Law' to be applicable in IDF bases, a commitment to pass bills giving criminal immunity to security officers and military personnel and to define incitement against the haredi community as racism and recognition of the city of Beersheba as a metropolitan area.

Anticipated difficulties

Soon-to-be opposition MKs and two of the Attorney General's deputies continued to point out on Wednesday problematic aspects in the law's current formulation. The attorney general deputies' main argument was that the law did not include a guarantee of the police's independence and its commitment first and foremost to the letter of the law.

Other difficulties that opposition MKs brought up on Wednesday included the lack of clarity over what "general policy" meant, as well as an unclear hierarchy between the national security minister and the rest of the cabinet.

The Knesset's legal representatives, the deputy attorney generals and the opposition MKs offered alternative formulations throughout the day. Ben-Gvir agreed to insert two additional clauses into the law that will require him to publish all of his policy decisions online, and appear before the Knesset Interior Security Committee periodically in order to present his policies.

However, he did not agree to proposals that would address the essential issues in the law, such as a proposal by the deputies to add a clause to the law that would ensure the police’s independence and would not act according to political whims.

"The two amendments that the designated minister adopted do not address the essential difficulties in the proposal," deputy attorney-general Gil Limon said after the amendments were introduced.

"The wording that is placed before the committee does not properly balance the minister's powers with the professional independence of the police, and therefore does not align with the basic principles of a democratic regime. There is a real concern here about the influence of political considerations on police activity in the most sensitive areas," Limon said.

Otzma Yehudit number two MK Yizhak Wasserlauf reiterated on Army Radio on Wednesday that the party was committed to passing the law prior to the government being sworn in order to "insure itself," implying that Otzma Yehudit did not trust that the law would pass after the government's formation.

The Smotrich-Deri Law also passed its first reading earlier this week and is being prepared for its second and third readings. The soon-to-be opposition filed approximately 1,700 reservations to the law, in an attempt to delay its return to the Knesset for final approval. 

Tal Spungin contributed to this report.