Netanyahu Tells President: I Succeeded in Forming Gov't, Swearing-in Expected Thursday

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Netanyahu and Gantz signing the unity agreement in Jerusalem, April 2020
Netanyahu and Gantz signing the unity agreement in Jerusalem, April 2020Credit: Prime Minister's Office

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday formally informed President Reuven Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz that he had succeeded in forming a government, which is expected to be sworn in on Thursday night.

Netanyahu's announcement comes after a last-moment meeting with Naftali Bennett, who heads the right-wing Yamina alliance, slated for Wednesday night, was cancelled, leaving the party out of the government.

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The emergency government, inflated to a record 36 ministries  and 16 deputy ministers, will be sworn in after a new Knesset speaker is elected by lawmakers, 48 hours after Gantz resigned from the position.

Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Kahol Lavan, as well as all other coalition parties submitted their coalition agreements and policy guidelines for the new government to the Knesset secretariat Wednesday night.

According to the policy guidelines, the government will form a national reconciliation cabinet and “will act to bridge the chasms of Israeli society.

According to the coalition agreement between Likud and ultra-Orthodox party Shas, both sides have agreed to temporarily enshrine in law the draft bill proposed by the Israel Defense Forces and the Defense Ministry, including the “required amendments derived from recognition in the importance of Torah studies.”

The agreement adds that the government will formulate a new comprehensive law, conceded to by all the coalition parties, “while acting in accordance with the policy that the State of Israel will not limit the quota of those studying the Torah.”

At the same time, Likud committed to support Shas in its battle to rectify the damage caused to yeshiva students by the implementation of the bill after its passing. 

The agreement also noted that Likud has pledged to Shas to preserve the status quo with the ultra-Orthodox, meaning that Kahol Lavan won’t be able to promote the bills it promised to advance in its election campaign, including civil marriage, pro-LGBTQ legislation, and operating public transportation on Shabbat.

Acording to the agreement between Kahol Lavan and the Derech Eretz faction, the latter will be subject to Kahol Lavan’s decision on joining or leaving the government.

“Kahol Lavan, Derech Eretz, as well as the rest of the factions joining the coalition commit to support all the bills derived from the main coalition agreement,” the agreement read.

In addition, Yoaz Handel from Derech Eretz will be given one of the following portfolios - communications, culture and sports or agriculture. Zvi Hauser, also from Derech Eretz, will be Kahol Lavan’s representative on the Judicial Appointments Committee, and will head the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. In addition, Gantz will have the power to appoint deputy ministers in the ministries headed by Derech Eretz.

Orli Levi-Abekasis, a former Yisrael Beiteinu party lawmaker who ran with a left-wing alliance in the March 2 general election, also signed a coalition agreement with Likud.

Levi-Abekasis will head the newly minted Ministry for Community Empowerment and Advancement.

On Monday, Netanyahu offered Bennett's Yamina the education and Jerusalem portfolios, a deputy ministerial post in charge of national civil service and settlements, both subjects close to the heart of the national religious public that are Yamina’s base. But Bennett held out for the ministries of transportation and health, which Netanyahu rejected.

According to Yamina, Netanyahu and Bennett spoke on the phone on Wednesday, after the PMO failed to schedule a meeting between the two. The prime minister told Bennett that Monday's offer still stands, stressing that Yamina won't get the health portfolio. No understandings were reached in the conversation.    

Likud release a statement on Twitter that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made a last effort to get Yamina into the government, before submitting the fundamentals of the new government to the Knesset Wednesday night.

“The prime minister offered Bennett an improved deal – he can choose between the education portfolio or one of the economic portfolios, in addition to the Jerusalem portfolio, and a deputy ministerial post in charge of national civil service and settlements,” the tweet read.

“Unfortunately, Bennet rejected the offer due to inner struggles in Yamina over who gets which portfolio and because ideology is less important to him than holding onto his chair.” 

On his part, Bennett twitted: “The decision is in Netanyahu’s hands. As I’ve been saying all along, we are interested in joining the government, but only if we can make a difference. Having an influence is completely derived from the areas of responsibilities we’ll have.

“If the prime minister wants us where we can influence, we’ll be happy to join the government. If the prime minister wants as on the margins, weak and powerless, we prefer to be part of the opposition,” Bennett said.  

On Tuesday, Netanyahu offered former Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to serve as health minister, and the latter accepted. Edelstein will lead the coronavirus task force and will also be a member of the security cabinet.

The move sparked resentment among Yamina lawmakers, some of whom said “This slams the door on the option of us joining the government.”

On Sunday, Yamina said that it would not join a Netanyahu-led coalition, but would be part of the opposition.

"Due to the makeup of the government and its likely policy as a left-wing government headed by Netanyahu, and in light of the prime minister's outright disdain towards Yamina and its voters, [we] have decided to serve the public from the opposition."

In its statement, the party added that "Yamina will prepare for the day after Netanyahu, in a year and a half."

It said it will act as a right-wing party "which would not sell out the justice system to the left for personal survival; a right that will not grovel before Hamas and [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas; a right that is truly committed to developing and legalizing settlements."

Netanyahu’s Likud said in response that "if Yamina would get another portfolio, that would make this a right-wing government in their eyes?"

Tensions between Netanyahu and Bennett – who acted as the former's chief of staff for two years when he was opposition leader in 2006 –  crested new heights when Bennett threatened in November 2018 along with close ally and former Netanyahu staffer Shaked to resign from the government. 

Bennett, at the time the education minister and leader of the far-right Habayit Hayehudi party, issued an ultimatum for Netanyahu, saying that his party would quit if he's not appointed defense minister. 

"Something bad is happening on the inside, including during the last decade in Netanyahu's governments - the State of Israel stopped winning," Bennett said at the time, before quickly walking back on his threat to leave the coalition.

Netanyahu eventually fired both Bennett and Shaked from the government in June 2019.

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