Likud Intends to Sign Coalition Deals With ultra-Orthodox Parties

Likud is hoping to sign with both UTJ and Shas by the middle of this week, as Netanyahu's four-week deadline to form a government expires on Saturday at midnight

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Benjamin Netanyahu shaking the hand of United Torah Judaism head Yitzchak Goldknopf.
Benjamin Netanyahu shaking the hand of United Torah Judaism head Yitzchak Goldknopf.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Negotiations between Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud and the two ultra-Orthodox parties are slated to resume on Sunday, in an effort to seal the final deals needed to form a government.

Likud has already signed deals with three other parties – Otzma Yehudit, Religious Zionism and Noam.

For now, Likud plans to focus on United Torah Judaism chairman Yitzchak Goldknopf, since he has refused to let his party’s MKs sign a petition to replace Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy until a coalition deal is finalized.

Likud is hoping to sign with both UTJ and Shas by the middle of this week, as Netanyahu's four-week deadline to form a government expires on Saturday at midnight. But if necessary, Likud is also prepared to ask for more time, a request President Isaac Herzog is expected to grant. By law, he can allot up to 14 days more.

The additional time may be needed because Likud has promised to pass two laws even before the new government is sworn in – one which would allow Shas chairman Arye Dery to serve as a minister despite his recent criminal conviction, and another that would give the designated national security minister, Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben-Gvir, power to set policy for the police. Replacing the Knesset speaker is a necessary precursor to passing these laws, as Levy won’t agree to fast-track them.

Benjamin Netanyahu looks at MK Arye Dery as they stand near far-right lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich after their Knesset swearing-in ceremony in Jerusalem in November.Credit: RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

The negotiations with Shas revolve around the budgets to be allotted to the party’s ministries, first and foremost the Interior Ministry. Shas wants these enshrined in the coalition agreements so that Finance Minister-designate Bezalel Smotrich won’t be able to impact their funding. Likud accepted this demand to compensate Dery for having agreed to let Smotrich serve first under their deal to rotate the Finance Ministry between them.

With UTJ, several outstanding issues remain, but they are expected to be resolved soon. The biggest disputes had revolved around UTJ’s competition with Smotrich’s Religious Zionism for influence over religious issues, such as chairmanship of the Knesset committee that oversees the Religious Services Ministry. But now that Likud has signed an agreement with Smotrich, some of UTJ’s demands are off the table.

The coalition negotiations consist of two parts. One is over a uniform document that will be signed by all the parties in the government, including the government’s guidelines and the main reforms the government hopes to pass, such as legal reforms. However, sources who have seen the draft document say it is written in very general terms and isn’t expected to include any detailed action items, to avoid public criticism before the government has even done anything.

The second part consists of the specific commitments Likud is making to each individual party, including which ministries they will receive. These commitments will be included as appendixes to the uniform document.

Likud is still hoping to get signatures from the 61 MKs it needs to call a vote on replacing the Knesset speaker by sometime on Sunday. Otherwise, the election for a new speaker would be delayed, possibly even until next week, because the Knesset’s agenda for the week is being set at a meeting slated to take place on Sunday.

Though Levy has promised not to delay his successor’s election unnecessarily, he also said he wouldn’t call the vote “from one day to the next.” Consequently, once the week’s agenda is set, he is unlikely to alter it for a vote on a new speaker.

After the speaker is replaced, Likud expects that passing the two laws at issue will take about a week. They are therefore unlikely to pass by December 10, when Netanyahu's four-week deadline to form a government expires.

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