Despite Netanyahu's claim of imminent gov't, only one final agreement signed

By law, Netanyahu only needs to provide the Knesset with the signed deals 24 hours before the debate to ratify the government.

 Likud Head MK Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a plenum session at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 19, 2022.  (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
Likud Head MK Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a plenum session at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 19, 2022.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Despite Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement to President Isaac Herzog late Wednesday night that he succeeded in forming a government, only one party has actually signed a final agreement – Agudat Yisrael, the hassidic faction of United Torah Judaism (UTJ).

The Religious Zionist Party (RZP) was the only party to announce prior to the call that it had reached “final agreements” with the Likud, but it has yet to actually sign one.

Agudat Yisrael announced in the hours after midnight that it, too, had reached and signed an agreement.

Otzma Yehudit on Thursday morning announced it had reached final agreements, but it also had not yet signed. Shas, Noam and Degel Hatorah, the Lithuanian faction of UTJ, have not announced either.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid spoke during prime time on Thursday night, responding to Netanyahu’s announcement.

 THE 25TH KNESSET convenes for its inauguration, last month. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) THE 25TH KNESSET convenes for its inauguration, last month. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

“I stand here and speak to you out of deep concern for the fate of Israeli society,” Lapid began. “I feel it is my duty to tell the public: The government established here [by Benjamin Netanyahu] is dangerous, extreme, irresponsible. This will end badly.”

Shas leader Arye Deri, RZP head Bezalel Smotrich and Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir were the ones who actually formed the government, Lapid charged, not the Likud.

The outgoing prime minister went on to list the ways in which he claimed the incoming government will endanger the State of Israel. He referred to the harm and dismantling of the foundations of Israeli society, the IDF, the police, the Education Ministry, Israel’s international standing, the Israeli economy and, finally, world Jewry.

Netanyahu quickly responded on social media, saying:

“Lapid, who left us a devastated country in economic and political collapse, with Iran racing toward nuclear power... with rampant murder and violence, is preaching to the next government with baseless claims. Lapid – you lost the elections. Go home.”

Degel Hatorah expressed its anger over Agudat Yisrael signing without it, in a letter to Netanyahu on Thursday published at prime time, in which it demanded to reopen the negotiations.

The party claimed in the letter, which was signed by all of Degel’s current MKs, that it had insisted throughout the negotiations to act in coordination with Agudat Yisrael even if the sides did not agree on certain matters.

It is significant that Netanyahu signed separately with Agudat Yisrael and also guaranteed Goldknopf a place in the State Security Cabinet without updating Degel Hatorah, the party argued.

It demanded therefore to reopen a number of issues where its opinion differs from Agudat Yisrael, including those relating to the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) draft law, specific housing solutions for the haredi community, demands different from Agudat Yisrael regarding “kosher” cellphone policy, salaries of education workers and more.

Netanyahu is not required to provide signed agreements to the president to make the call, and this will not affect his government’s formation. It does mean, however, that negotiations are still ongoing.

By law, Netanyahu only needs to provide the fully signed deals 24 hours before the Knesset plenum debate to ratify the government – which must take place within a week of Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin’s announcing to the Knesset that a government has been formed.

Levin’s announcement will be made at the start of Monday’s plenum, and Netanyahu has until Sunday, January 1, to complete the negotiations and until January 2 to ratify the government.

Despite the lack of signed documents, a number of details have emerged about some of the final agreements.

Otzma Yehudit

Incoming National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, chairman of Otzma Yehudit, scored a significant victory by securing partial veto power over the Knesset Ministerial Legislation Committee, which is responsible for approving laws proposed by ministers. He will have a “quota” of vetoes that he will be able to use, his representative said, without explaining how the quota system will work.

The agreement with Otzma Yehudit also includes “a list of principles and laws that will enable full support of soldiers and police officers, returning governance, developing the Negev and Galilee, promoting Jewish identity in the state and reforming the judicial system,” the party said.

It later gave a detailed list of provisions in its agreement with the Likud, including a minimum three-year jail sentence for extortion or agricultural crime; a law that incitement against the haredi public will be considered racism; forming a special unit in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to fight crime in the Arab sector; making illegal the waving of Palestinian flags at institutions supported by the state or by local government; the “Legal Adviser’s Law,” in which the directors-general of government ministries will appoint their own legal advisers; planting olive trees in Area C in the West Bank to prevent a Palestinian takeover of land; and canceling the clause in the Basic Law: The Knesset that bars parties or individuals from running for the legislature who incite to racism, do not recognize Israel as a Jewish and democratic state or who support terrorism.

In yet another statement later on Thursday, Otzma announced that it had also agreed with the Likud to legislate a death penalty for terrorists before the 2023 budget passes. The parties also agreed that the “young settlement” outposts would be immediately connected to electricity and water, and that the government would funnel NIS 300 million a year into planning, regulating and carrying out infrastructural work for these outposts, Otzma said.

United Torah Judaism

Incoming Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf will serve as a member of the Ministerial Committee on National Security Affairs (the state security cabinet), according to haredi news site Behadrei Haredim, the first haredi minister to ever do so.

In response, Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman criticized Netanyahu for “spitting in the face of IDF soldiers,” since “the person who said ‘it is harder to study Torah than to fight at the front’ is going to serve on the State Security Committee, and thus for the first time the chairman of United Torah Judaism – an anti-Zionist party that openly opposes military service – will serve on a committee that directly influences the IDF and security forces.”

Degel Hatorah delayed its signing because of issues related to housing, according to a party source. Agudat Yisrael will have Goldknopf as housing minister and is not worried about future housing issues, but Degel Hatorah is still working on ensuring that its electorate receives adequate housing commitments, the source said.

The agreement is 14 pages long and has 128 clauses. Many were already known to the public due to leaks in recent weeks, but a few stood out.

Clause 18 stipulates that the government will legislate the Basic Law: Torah Study, as well as regulate the legal status of ultra-Orthodox citizens regarding being drafted into the IDF by the time the 2023 budget passes. The party expects that constitutionalizing Torah study will offset any appeals to the High Court of Justice based on inequality of the haredi exemption from the draft.

Clause 21 sets the monthly stipend for an unmarried yeshiva student at NIS 653 and a married student at approximately NIS 1,200.

Clause 24 stipulates that no legislation on issues of religion and state will pass without the consent of all of the coalition’s parties.

Clause 31 permits prayer or other religious ceremonies at the Western Wall only if they are conducted according to Halacha (Jewish Law).

Clause 36 says the coalition will change the law to enable gender-segregated public events for religious or haredi civilians who wish to have them.

Clause 42 cancels former religious affairs minister Matan Kahana’s kashrut reform.

Clause 49 delineates the wording regarding the coalition’s intentions to reform the judicial system, which was a major point in the negotiations. The clause says that the entire coalition pledges to vote for any law proposed by the incoming justice minister (expected to be Levin) regarding the separation of powers between the judicial and legislative branch, and these laws will take procedural priority over all other ones.

Clause 53 addresses the controversial issue of the Law of Return’s “Grandfather Clause,” which enables anyone with a Jewish grandparent to become an Israeli citizen, even if they are not Jewish according to Halacha. The clause promises “law amendments in light of the difficulties and loopholes created by the clause.” This formulation, which also appears in the RZP agreement, is a compromise after the religious parties demanded to completely cancel the clause.

Clause 80, and an appendix dedicated specifically to this subject, lays out the changes to the haredi education system. It says that, “In light of the 37th government’s recognition that all children deserve equality and of the long-time discrimination against the haredi school system,” the government will include the private haredi schools in past agreements made with the public schools teachers’ union.

This will significantly increase funding for private schools, which in return will not be overseen by the Education Ministry and will not be required to include core curriculum. It will also raise teachers’ salaries, including preschool teachers.

Clause 94 pledges to create a sweeping housing plan for the haredi public within 30 days of the government taking power.

Clause 115 includes a plan to increase haredi participation in the public-sector workforce by recognizing certain certificates as being equivalent to a bachelor’s degree in terms of qualifications, among other provisions.

Clause 121 cancels Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel’s kosher cellphone reform, which enabled haredi citizens to transport their cellphone numbers in older, “kosher” cell phones to smartphones. The previous practice was that a special committee controlled “kosher” numbers and thus was able to track who did and who did not have a “nonkosher” smartphone.

Religious Zionist Party

A statement by the party laid out some of its agreements, including an “equal citizenship” plan to transfer authority over Israeli civilians living in Judea and Samaria from the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration to the regular government ministries; a government decision within 60 days to regulate the status of the “young settlement” outposts; a plan to “Judaize” the Galilee; a NIS 350 million budget to encourage aliyah from France and the US; and hundreds of millions of shekels in funding for strengthening Jewish identity.

Shas

Shas chairman Arye Deri met with his party’s MKs and laid out their coalition agreement, which has not yet been officially signed. The party issued a statement that said it had achieved many objectives during the negotiations, without saying what they were.

The party emphasized that its position paper regarding religion and state, which it prepared at the beginning of the negotiations, had served as the basis for the agreements with all of the haredi parties and “anchored the rights of the haredi and religious public in many areas.”

Noam

Noam chairman and sole MK Avi Maoz said on Thursday night that he would only sign the coalition agreement next week.