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Government set to swear in Netanyahu on Thursday, but hurdles remain

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Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu will attempt to be sworn into his ruling coalition of far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties on Thursday, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin said Monday, with the former prime minister seeking to regain power by a date limit to put his unruly partners online.

Levin officially briefed the Knesset plenum on Monday on Netanyahu’s announcement last week that he could form Israel’s next government, starting a seven-day clock for the far-right three-party coalition and two ultra-Orthodox parties, in addition to its right wing Likud officially taking the oath.

Levin said a hearing and vote of confidence on the new government is scheduled for Thursday morning, although it could be postponed until the morning of Jan. 2.

Netanyahu still needs to overcome some key hurdles before being sworn into government, including formalizing coalition agreements with nearly all of his partners, allocating ministerial posts among members of his Likud party, and finalizing two key pieces of legislation demanded by the government. coalition partners as prerequisites.

The first of these bills – to allow the appointment of an independent minister within the Ministry of Defense with broad authority over settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank, as well as to pave the way for Aryeh Deri of Shas to lead two departments — despite a recent suspended sentence for tax fraud — is expected to come for its final votes Monday night.

A second bill – aimed at extending political authority over police leadership and policy, as demanded by new far-right police minister Itamar Ben Gvir – was slated for final votes on Tuesday, after having cleared a committee where he was held back by opposition lawmakers and legal advisers who caution against rushing into controversial moves.

A bill must pass three readings in the Knesset to become law.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Druckman on December 26, 2022 in Masu’ot Itzhak. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Besides removing legislative hurdles, Netanyahu must also finalize coalition agreements with his partners and distribute roles among his own party’s top lawmakers before the swearing-in.

He only signed a coalition agreement with United Torah Judaism, and even that agreement will be slightly modified to remove a clause giving the ultra-Orthodox party a seat in the security cabinet. While the UTJ is currently led by its Agudat Yisrael faction, whose leader Yitzhak Goldknopf signed the agreement, its Degel HaTorah faction has not coordinated its finalization and has threatened to open negotiations on the role of the cabinet of safety for Goldknopf, which retired his application for the position on Monday.

Likud has drafted framework agreements with far-right religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit, but has yet to finalize and sign those agreements. Otzma Yehudit leader Ben Gvir has hinted that talks over their deal may not be final, after criticizing Netanyahu for apparently changing the terms of their deal to scrap legislation banning racist politicians from Knesset.

The Haredi Shas and the far-right Noam have yet to reach agreements with Likud, although all partner parties have agreed to their allocated roles.

Otzma Yehudit party leader Itamar Ben Gvir at the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 26, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

While government positions have been put in order for Netanyahu’s coalition partners, confusion persists within Likud. Some of its members, including David Bitan, have publicly complained that Netanyahu has handed out too many key posts outside the party, given that it is the largest in the Knesset.

Netanyahu has yet to brief most Likud members on their roles in the upcoming Knesset, and has yet to offer a final word on who will succeed Levin as Knesset speaker this week. Levin signaled his intention to step down on Tuesday, under a plan that his assignment would only be temporary to guide the coalition through its legislative blitz ahead of the swearing-in process.

Levin, a close confidant of Netanyahu and a rising star in the party, is expected to serve as justice minister or foreign minister. He is a strong supporter of judicial reforms, and if he takes the post of justice minister, he will likely push for some of the coalition’s more controversial plans to rein in the justice system.

A report earlier this month also said Levin had proposed lowering the retirement age for Supreme Court justices from 70 to 67. Uzi Vogelman, 68, Yosef Elron, 67, and Anat Baron, 69.

The new government has been harshly criticized by its political opponents for its plans to weaken the justice system, reduce civil rights protections, realign some security command structures, and increase funding and protection for religious schools. , among others.

Scheduled to be relegated to the opposition benches within the week, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said policies pushed by members of Netanyahu’s new government “separate the State of Israel from within” and constitute a “looting of democratic values”.

Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid leads a Yesh Atid party meeting in Jerusalem, December 26, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“I wonder who [is] more afraid to live in this country,” he said at the start of the meeting of his Yesh Atid party faction in the Knesset on Monday.

LGBT people who learned from Simcha Rothman that they would be banned from hotels? Arabs who heard Orit Strock say that doctors can refuse to treat them? Activists from women’s organizations who found out they were on Avi Maoz blacklists? Reform and Conservative Jews who heard [MK Meir] Porush that they will be kicked out of the Western Wall? Or senior prosecutors and police officers who heard of Yair Netanyahu that they be prosecuted for treason, the penalty for which is death? said Lapid.

Lapid was mentioned in part a coalition request touted Sunday by Religious Zionism MKs that would allow business owners and even doctors to refuse service if it interferes with their religious sensibilities — something Netanyahu has twice made clear he does not support even though it does figured in published drafts of coalition agreements.

“It’s not a political struggle anymore,” Lapid continued. “This is a battle for the soul of the State of Israel as a Jewish state, as a democratic state, as a sane state.”

Responding to criticism, he accused Lapid of not respecting the November 1 election results.

Religious Zionism MKs Simcha Rothman and Orit Strock at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 9, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lapid, losing elections isn’t the end of democracy, it’s the essence of democracy. You refuse to accept the people’s decision,” Netanyahu said in a video message recorded after Lapid’s remarks.

“You incite the public to oppose the decision of the people, you endlessly spread lies against the elected government. What will be your next step? Send your protesters to scale the Knesset fences? Netanyahu said.

called on Netanyahu Lapid “to behave responsibly, accept the decision of the people and transfer power in an orderly manner so that we can fix everything you have destroyed in the past year and a half.”

Lapid said he accepted the election results, but was adamant in his criticism of the new government’s policies toward religion and its role in the state, judicial reform and minority rights.

“If anyone thinks it will stop with the formation of the government, they are completely wrong,” Lapid said, calling Netanyahu “the weakest prime minister of all time.”

“If we don’t stop them, it will get worse,” he added.

Netanyahu has been accused of caving in to far-reaching demands that will fundamentally alter Israel’s democratic system in order to win the support of his only remaining allies, with other potential partners refusing to back a government led by a judged politician for corruption.

Among the planned changes is legislation that would allow the Knesset to overturn a High Court ruling deeming a law unconstitutional, giving haredi and right-wing parties wide latitude to pass measures deemed discriminatory, such as bills. IDF exemptions or protections for those who refuse to serve members of the LGBT community and others.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a National Unity Party faction meeting in Jerusalem on December 26, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Speaking at a meeting of his Blue and White faction in the Knesset on Monday, outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz issued a public call to ultra-Orthodox political parties to oppose elements of coercion and religious discrimination which are hotly debated in coalition agreements.

“What you are doing and supporting these days is transforming Israel from a Jewish state to a religious state,” Gantz said. “From a Jewish state to a tribal state – and the result will hurt Judaism, hurt religion and hurt the State of Israel as a whole.”

Gantz said legislation allowing discrimination and racism “will hurt you first and foremost…and alienate you further from the general population.”

He added that such measures could lead to “secular-only hotels, workplaces announcing they won’t accept Haredim,” he said.

When that happens, Gantz said, “remember that you were part of the constellation that whitewashed harm to minorities. It disintegrated us into tribes.

The leaders of most of the parties that will form the next opposition met in the Knesset and issued a joint statement promising to oppose the new government.

“We will work together to fight this backward and undemocratic government that is being put in place, which will dismantle Israel from within,” said Lapid, Gantz, Labor Merav Michaeli, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman and Mansour Abbas of Ra’am.

New opposition party leaders (from left) Mansour Abbas, Yair Lapid, Merav Michaeli, Benny Gantz and Avigdor Liberman meet at the Knesset on December 26, 2022. (Courtesy)

“When we return to power, we promise to reverse any extremist legislation that undermines Israeli democracy, security, economy or society,” they added.

A representative of Hadash-Ta’al — which will also be in opposition but generally does not cooperate with other parties — was not present.

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