Reflections on political developments - opinion

Though Bezalel Smotrich will most likely end up entering the new Israeli government, he will receive much less than what he originally sought.

 BEZALEL SMOTRICH will definitely not be receiving the Defense portfolio, says the writer. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
BEZALEL SMOTRICH will definitely not be receiving the Defense portfolio, says the writer.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

We appear to be only several steps away from the formation of the new government, and as I predicted last week, it will be Religious Zionist leader Bezalel Smotrich who will be forced off the tall tree he has climbed in the course of the negotiations for the formation of the purely right-wing-religious government.

Smotrich seems to have few sympathizers for the position he maneuvered himself into, which is not surprising given the fact that if he hadn’t been forced by Benjamin Netanyahu into running together with Otzma Yehudit and Noam in the recent elections he might well have failed to pass the qualifying threshold, or at best would have found himself as one of two parties with only four Knesset seats, and with leaders who refuse to accept the limits of their true political weight and potential (the other one being current Labor Party leader, Merav Michaeli).

I was quite amused when I started hearing senior Channel 14 presenter and commentator Yaakov Bardugo, with whom I have never agreed about anything, attacking Smotrich on every possible count, but especially over his constituting the main obstacle to the rapid formation of a new government headed by Netanyahu. Where Bardugo errs in his analysis is in accusing Smotrich of “Bennettism” – i.e. a brand of opportunism that is based on insatiable greed, that leads to betrayal of one’s ideological partners, according to Bardugo.

The political moves adopted by the leader of the now defunct Yamina, Naftali Bennett, following the elections to the 24th Knesset, were undoubtedly based on opportunism, or rather on circumstantial options. Nevertheless, I do not doubt for a moment that if Yamina’s joining Netanyahu back in June 2021 would have resulted in the formation of a rightwing-religious government, Bennett would have opted for such a government.

However, had Bennett joined Netanyahu at that time, Netanyahu would still have had only 59 Knesset seats. He would have reached 63, had he agreed to introduce Ra’am into his coalition, but Smotrich emphatically rejected such a move and Netanyahu gave in.

 PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett in his office: Neither Bibi-ism nor Smotrich-ism is the Right. The Right is the love of the land but also the love of our people; and, above all, I am a Jew. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI) PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett in his office: Neither Bibi-ism nor Smotrich-ism is the Right. The Right is the love of the land but also the love of our people; and, above all, I am a Jew. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI)

That left Bennett with the option of going into opposition with Netanyahu, or joining the just-not-Bibi parties, and standing at the head of a government made up of this almost impossible coalition. In other words, it was Smotrich’s policy that dictated Bennett’s moves, and not Bennett’s moves that dictated Smotrich’s political choices. Bennett took advantage of the reality dictated by Smotrich. Whether this will pay off in the long run, only the future will tell.

Smotrich, on the other hand, seems time and again inclined to “cut his nose off to spite his own face.” That is what he did in 2021, and that is what he seems to be doing for the last three weeks. By the look of things, though he will most likely end up entering the government, he will receive much less than what he originally sought.

Of the two ministries he was originally interested in, he will definitely not be receiving the Defense Ministry, and what is reportedly still on the table regarding the Finance Ministry is that it shall be given to him and to Shas leader Arye Deri together on the basis of a rotation agreement, with each of them receiving an additional Ministry, as well.

At the time of writing, it is not clear whether this rather weird idea (reportedly raised by the Likud to try to get out of the Gordian Knot into which Smotrich, and to a lesser extent Deri got the negotiations). However, the mere fact that Smotrich is an advocate of extreme laissez-faire economics, and Deri is an enthusiastic advocate of the welfare state, ensures that such an arrangement will not produce a consistent economic policy or economic stability, nor effective moves to contend with the rising cost of living.

THE ONLY way out of the new tangle that will be created if the rotation idea is implemented will be if Netanyahu himself will turn into the actual finance minister. Hopefully, some other solution will be worked out – perhaps it already has.

The new Israeli government's reforms will take awhile

While we shall know the exact makeup of the new government within a week or two, it will take a little longer before we shall know which of the many far-reaching reforms that are being bandied around for our legal system will actually be implemented. All the proposed reforms require legislation and as long as Mickey Levy from Yesh Atid is still the speaker of the Knesset and before a new justice minister (apparently Yariv Levin) is sworn in, the Likud cannot start implementing any sort of legislative program.

Among the most significant reforms on the agenda are those having to do with the overriding clause, splitting the position of attorney-general into a legal adviser to the government and a public prosecutor, turning the legal advisers of the ministries into trust appointments of the ministers who will appoint them and to whom they will owe their allegiance rather than to the attorney-general, as is currently the case.

There is also the intention to change the way judges are selected, so that it will be the government (i.e. politicians) that will be responsible exclusively for making the choices, rather than the Judicial Selection Committee, made up of the justice minister and an additional minister, two MKs (one from the coalition and one from the opposition), two representatives of the Bar Association, the president of the Supreme Court and two additional Supreme Court justices, as is the case today. All these proposals are highly controversial, and the debates in the course of the legislative process are certain to be both vibrant and interesting.

For example, on the issue of the overriding clause (a clause that will allow the Knesset to overrule a decision by the Supreme Court to cancel articles in a law passed by the Knesset, or a complete law because of their alleged unconstitutionality), the proposal which is currently being mentioned by members of the future coalition, provides for a majority of 61 MKs being able to pass a law that cancels the decision of the Supreme Court. Since the new government will have a majority of 64 MKs, this means that the government alone will be able to overrule decisions of the Supreme Court.

Several days ago, former Magistrates Court judge Eti Karif, who was involved in the sex-for-judgeships scandal over three years ago, subsequently joining the Likud (she did not run in the primaries for the Likud list to the 25th Knesset) spoke as a panelist on a TV program, suggesting a version for the overriding clause, that I believe would enjoy widespread support in the Knesset if adopted by the Likud.

Karif suggested that the majority by which the Knesset should be able to overrule a Supreme Court decision should be larger than 61 MKs (she did not mention a figure but was apparently referring to at least 65 MKs if not more), and that this majority should include MKs from the opposition and not only from the coalition. Undoubtedly, if the Likud will reject this version, it will be raised by the opposition when the bill will be deliberated in the committee stage.

We shall certainly have interesting days ahead, whether or not we support the new government.

The writer worked in the Knesset for many years as a researcher and has published extensively both journalistic and academic articles on current affairs and Israeli politics. Her most recent book, Israel’s Knesset Members – A Comparative Study of an Undefined Job, was published by Routledge.