Israel Coalition Talks: Bennett Demanding Total Control of Judicial Appointments Committee

Sources close to Lapid fears that a right-wing majority on panel will prevent center-left parties from blocking controversial picks

Jonathan Lis
Michael Hauser Tov
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Naftali Bennett arrives at the President's Residence, last week.
Naftali Bennett arrives at the President's Residence, last week.Credit: Emil Salman
Jonathan Lis
Michael Hauser Tov

Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett is seeking a right-wing majority on the Knesset Judicial Appointments Committee to promote the choice of conservative judges while he is prime minister.

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An official in the center-left bloc told Haaretz that Bennett’s representatives made clear during coalition talks that he planned to demand from his cabinet partners that representatives to the committee come exclusively from the right.

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Yamina sources confirmed on Sunday that its representatives in the talks were demanding that three of the four of the political appointees to the committee (two ministers and two Knesset members) be from the right.

The MK representatives on the panel are chosen by their colleagues in a secret ballot. In any case, two of the four political appointees are expected to come from the right – the first being the justice minister, a portfolio that is expected to go to either New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar or Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked – a former justice minister who sought to promote right-wing judges during her tenure – and the second being a representative from the opposition, most probably from Likud.

Sources close to Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid expressed fears that a right-wing majority would prevent the left-wing bloc from being able to block controversial appointments.

The judicial appointments panel has nine members. Besides the political appointees, three are Supreme Court justices and two are representatives of the Israel Bar Association. A judicial candidate must be supported by seven members of the committee for him or her to assume the post.

Yamina and Yesh Atid are hoping to sign a first coalition agreement on Monday or at the latest Tuesday, and they aim to present a government by the end of the week. The negotiating teams of the two parties held a round of meetings with the other members of the so-called change bloc on Sunday, but no agreements were reached.

A major point of contention is Shaked’s demand for the justice portfolio. Sources involved in the negotiations said it was one of the main reasons for the lack of progress in talks and the lack of clarity over how ministerial portfolios are going to be allocated.

During talks on Sunday, Bennett agreed in principle to cede the portfolio but said it was conditional on Shaked’s consent. Negotiators said Sunday that Shaked was offered every portfolio except Justice, Defence, Finance and Foreign Affairs, all of which are being reserved for coalition party chiefs.

Bennett met Sunday with Mansour Abbas, the chairman of the United Arab List, for the second time since Lapid received the mandate from President Reuven Rivlin to form a government. Lapid and Abbas issued a statement at the end of the meeting saying, “The meeting was good,” and that negotiating teams would be meeting later. The change bloc is still undecided if, in order to assemble a Knesset majority, it will seek the active support of the UAL or settle for its abstention when the Knesset votes on the next government. Alternatively, it may ask the predominantly Arab Joint List, or at least part of it, to abstain.

Lapid is expected to meet in the coming days with the heads of the Joint List to preserve the second option of abstentions by all the Arab MKs.

Two MKs from United Torah Judaism sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday demanding that he cede the premiership for a year and a half, and let another MK form a government and serve as its first prime minister in a rotation.

It marked the first time that Haredi lawmakers have called in public for Netanyahu to step down to clear the way for a right-wing government. However, political sources do not believe there is a Knesset majority for a government like that.

“The only way to prevent a left-wing government and elections is a clear statement from you that you will give to someone from the right-wing bloc who succeeds in enlisting the 65 right-wing MKs the premiership for the first one-and-a-half years of a rotation,” MKs Meir Porush and Israel Eichler said in the letter.

In fact, Netanyahu himself had declared he was ready to grant the premiership for the first year of a rotation to Bennett. But New Hope’s Sa’ar responded to the proposal by saying he opposed a government like that, thereby quashing it.

On Monday, Netanyahu accused Bennett and Lapid of planning to name former state prosecutor Shai Nitzan as attorney general when Avichai Mendelblit’s term ends next year. Netanyahu shared an article to that effect on his “No Words” social media networks.

Both Lapid and Bennett denied any such plans and said discussions about the next attorney general had not even begun.

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