Knesset speaker announces that Netanyahu can form government

Following Yariv Levin's announcement, Netanyahu now has a week to present the government to the Knesset and receive its ratification.

 Likud Head MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with MK Yariv Levin during a vote for the new Knesset speaker at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 13, 2022. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Likud Head MK Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with MK Yariv Levin during a vote for the new Knesset speaker at the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on December 13, 2022.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The incoming coalition will hold a special Knesset plenum on Thursday to ratify the new government, Knesset speaker and Likud MK Yariv Levin officially announced on Monday.

Levin said Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu had succeeded in forming a government following Netanyahu’s Wednesday message to President Isaac Herzog.

Since Levin is expected to resign to serve as justice minister, the plenum will also include a vote for a new speaker.

The soon-to-be opposition will likely try to filibuster the session to drag the formation of the government into Friday, or even the beginning of next week.

The fully signed coalition agreements must be presented to the plenum at least 24 hours prior to the ratification session. This means Netanyahu will need to place the full agreements on the Knesset floor by 11 a.m. Wednesday.

 Prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the funeral of Rabbi Haim Drukman on December 26, 2022 in Masu'ot Itzhak. Rabbi Drukman passed away at the age of 90. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the funeral of Rabbi Haim Drukman on December 26, 2022 in Masu'ot Itzhak. Rabbi Drukman passed away at the age of 90. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

He has yet to publish a fully signed agreement with any of the parties other than United Torah Judaism – which was only signed by its hassidic faction, Agudat Yisrael.

UTJ's two factions clash over Goldknopf's cabinet seat

Degel Hatorah, the Lithuanian faction of UTJ, reportedly changed course Wednesday night, demanding to reopen the agreements, allegedly because they did not agree to Agudat Yisrael chairman Yitzhak Goldknopf joining the national security cabinet, as it makes life-or-death decisions, something not permitted according to Halacha, Degel Hatorah argued.

Goldknopf in response said on Monday he was giving up his spot in the cabinet to maintain “peace and unity” in UTJ, Channel 12 reported.

However, Agudat Yisrael claimed this was just a ruse, and the actual rift had to do with something else entirely – money.

The coalition agreement with UTJ includes a clause that cancels outgoing Communication Minister Yoaz Hendel’s “kosher cellphone” reform, and gives the power back to a special haredi (ultra-Orthodox) council over specific cellphone numbers that are guaranteed to be “kosher.” This thereby enables them to oversee whether or not their constituents were indeed using those phones.

However, Degel Hatorah is demanding that in addition to canceling the reform, the coalition agreement includes a clause that will allow it to form a separate rabbinic committee for the same purpose. This committee will be slightly more lenient – and may allow the use of certain cellphone models that the former council did not.

This would enable haredi businessmen to sell these models for profit. Degel Hatorah’s spiritual leader Rabbi Gershon Edelstein’s great-grandson, Motti Peli, allegedly called Degel Hatorah leader Moshe Gafni on Wednesday demanding that he not sign the agreement unless the demand is met. Peli, a businessman, may be connected to people who stand to earn profit from this, Agudat Yisrael argued.

Netanyahu reportedly offered Degel Hatorah to sign a separate agreement, but the issue has yet to be resolved.

On the agenda: The Ben-Gvir bill

Meanwhile, the plenum on Monday evening began with a marathon debate on the splitting of the “Ben-Gvir Bill” – which would give incoming national security minister and Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben-Gvir unprecedented control over the police. The proposal was approved late Monday evening.

The debates also battered on over the final vote on two amendments to Basic Law: The Government, known as the “Deri Law” and the “Smotrich Law.” The marathon debate continued throughout the night and only ended on Tuesday morning.

The splitting of the “Ben-Gvir Bill” leaves part of the bill as it is, which will likely pass into law in the coming days. However, some of the clauses from the original proposal were taken off the bill for further debate.

The bill that will pass this week includes provisions regarding the police’s subordinance to the government, as well as the minister’s ability to set policy and principles in general, specifically regarding investigations.

However, two other clauses – regarding the police commissioner’s direct subordinance to the national security minister, and the minister’s power to intervene in policy regarding the extent of legal proceedings – will continue to be debated after the government is formed.

Head of the Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben-Gvir and Chief of Police Kobi Shabtai at a ceremony on the second night the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, December 19, 2022.   (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)Head of the Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben-Gvir and Chief of Police Kobi Shabtai at a ceremony on the second night the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City, December 19, 2022. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

The compromise over the bill’s splitting led to a rare argument between the deputy Knesset legal adviser who oversaw the proceedings in the committee, lawyer Miri Frankel-Shor, and the representative of the attorney-general, lawyer Reut Gordon-Katz.

Frankel-Shor supported the splitting of the bill, finding it a worthy compromise between Ben-Gvir, who wanted to pass the bill in full, and the opposition, who tried to block it.

However, Gordon-Katz said the concessions that will pass into law were still problematic and did not properly balance the minister’s power with the police’s independence.

The committee’s chairman, Likud MK Ofir Katz, accused the Attorney-General’s Office of “opposing every suggestion out of hand,” and accused it of giving its opinion based on the identity of the proposer, and not the bill itself.

The intention of the “Deri Law” is to enable Shas chairman Arye Deri to be appointed as a minister.

According to the coalition agreements, Deri is set to serve despite his conviction in January of tax offenses and a subsequent suspended jail sentence. Deri resigned from the Knesset before the court determined whether his actions included moral turpitude, which would bar him from serving as a minister for seven years.

According to the law as it stands, the decision over moral turpitude is to be decided by the Central Elections Committee chairman High Court Justice Yitzhak Amit. However, the incoming coalition wishes to block the decision from reaching Amit by changing the law so that it only applied to actual, and not suspended, jail sentences.

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel appealed Deri’s expected appointment and said it would cause “serious damage to moral integrity and public trust in elected officials,” and would be “tainted by corruption and lack of good faith, unreasonableness and extreme disproportionality.”

The “Smotrich Law” is another provision that enables the position of minister within a ministry. The law’s purpose is to enable RZP chairman Bezalel Smotrich to serve as a minister within the Defense Ministry, responsible for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and the Civil Administration.