Israel's next gov't needs to be unified during coalition negotiations - editorial

Herzog said on Sunday that Israel needs a government that will have coalition negotiations in responsible and attentive dialogue with the other government branches.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks after casting his vote in Jerusalem during the Knesset elections last week. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks after casting his vote in Jerusalem during the Knesset elections last week.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu officially received the mandate to form a government from President Isaac Herzog on Sunday, after he received the recommendations of 64 MKs.

Herzog called Netanyahu an “experienced public servant who has served in a plethora of senior roles in our country,” and concluded that “the foremost task… is to lead a government and a coalition that will be conscious of the immense responsibility assigned to them, and to the fact that elections in Israel are not a zero-sum game.”

Netanyahu responded by saying, “I intend to be the prime minister of everyone – those who voted for me, and those who did not vote for me.”

But he tempered his welcome statement by criticizing “those who utter prophecies of doom and frighten the public.”

Netanyahu was referring to the increasingly disturbing reports of the demands being made by some of the Likud’s potential coalition partners, which if they do come to fruition, would indeed be cause for fright and trepidation.

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

They include the override clause that is likely to become a basic principle of the new government, which would neutralize the Supreme Court and erode the democratic nature of the country. Another alarming issue is Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir’s demand to overturn the High Court ruling recognizing Reform conversion for the purpose of the Law of Return.

But as clear and present are the dangers to the country’s fabric and its relationship with world Jewry that those eventualities would present, a look at the allocation of ministries in the next government is no less concerning.

What can come from the coalition negotiations?

Last week, we warned against the appointment of Shas leader Arye Deri to the Finance Ministry post. In 2000, Deri went to prison for two years for taking bribes while he was Interior minister in the 1980s. Upon his release, he returned to politics but eventually found himself once again on the wrong side of the law.

He resigned from the Knesset in January as part of a plea deal in which he was handed a 12-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of NIS 180,000 for failure to report income and other tax offenses. Making him finance minister would be a mockery of the political system.

“The State of Israel requires a government that, even if its composition does not reflect all worldviews and sections of the legislature, nevertheless knows to lead a process of connection and unification – between all parts of our people – and to conduct a responsible, cautious, open, frank and attentive dialogue with the other branches of government.”

Israeli President Isaac Herzog

But that may not even be the worst outcome of the coalition negotiations. Even more ominous than Deri as finance minister would be Religious Zionism Party leader Bezalel Smotrich being appointed defense minister.

Especially with someone positioned as a candidate for the job as experienced and level-headed as the Likud’s Yoav Gallant – a former major general – appointing the ideologically motivated Smotrich to the post is a move that should give us pause and could undermine relations with Israel’s most important defense partner, the United States.

Smotrich’s defense-related experience is minimal – he only served in the army for 14 months, starting at age 28. That, however, is not the main issue. In 2005, he was arrested during protests against the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip and was held by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) for three weeks. Last week, he promoted conspiracy theories about the agency’s involvement in the Rabin assassination. 

Putting him in charge of the Defense Ministry would be reckless. 

According to Kan Radio, Smotrich has been meeting with retired generals, including Dan Harel and Yiftach Ron-Tal, in an effort to garner support from within the defense establishment. However, Netanyahu is reportedly said to have major trepidations about handing the defense portfolio to Smotrich – but his future coalition might hang on it.

Having a defense minister who puts the security of the country and its citizens ahead of political considerations – like advocating for the pro-settler movement and the Jewish presence in the West Bank – is imperative to keep the defense establishment above the political fray.

As Herzog said on Sunday: “The State of Israel requires a government that, even if its composition does not reflect all worldviews and sections of the legislature, nevertheless knows to lead a process of connection and unification – between all parts of our people – and to conduct a responsible, cautious, open, frank and attentive dialogue with the other branches of government.” 

That should be the overriding principle guiding the coalition negotiations taking place this week – not the narrow, partisan aims of sectarian factions in Israeli society or the blind ambitions of party leaders.