According to reports, the Religious Zionist Party will receive a ministerial position within the Defense Ministry, although the defense portfolio will remain under the control of Likud.
Religious Zionist Party chairman MK Bezalel Smotrich agreed to back down from his demand to serve as defense minister if his party receives both the Finance Ministry and a minister within the Defense Ministry responsible for matters pertaining the West Bank, Channel 12 reported on Monday afternoon.
This marks a significant breakthrough in talks, as Smotrich until now insisted on becoming defense minister.
However, none of the parties involved in the negotiations confirmed the report, and the outcome may still change.
In order for Smotrich to receive the Finance Ministry, Shas chairman Arye Deri will need to back down from his own demand to receive the Finance Ministry. Deri will reportedly become deputy prime minister, as well as serve as both interior and transportation ministry. His party will also receive the Religious Services Ministry, Health Ministry and Ministry for the Development of the Periphery, Negev and Galilee, according to Channel 12.
Smotrich, Deri and Likud chairman MK Benjamin Netanyahu met on Monday evening, the first joint meeting between the three party leaders since the negotiations began.
Israeli law stipulates that a deputy prime minister must be from the prime minister’s party, and therefore the law will need to be changed in order for Deri to receive the position.
The Defense Ministry itself will remain within the Likud, and will likely go to Likud MK Yoav Gallant.
The specific defense responsibilities that will be awarded to a member of Smotrich’s party mainly have to do with civil administration in the West Bank, including COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories) and responsibility for enforcing the law in the West Bank’s open spaces.
The Likud’s spokesperson responded late on Monday: “In response to reporters’ questions, I would like to clarify that we will not comment on the details of the negotiations, and the reports on the subject are incorrect.”
Smotrich’s Party Said It Will Only Negotiate With Likud
Monday was initially tagged as the day in which the incoming coalition was supposed to replace Knesset Speaker MK Mickey Levy likely with a member of the Likud. However, RZP reportedly refused to cooperate since it opposed the appointment of Hadash-Ta’al MK Ahmad Tibi as one of the deputy speakers. Tibi agreed last week to give up one of his party’s two seats on the interim Knesset Finance Committee in exchange for becoming one of the deputy speakers. Replacing the Knesset speaker is a necessary step for the incoming coalition to control the pace of legislation. Israel Hayom reported on Monday morning that Shas was upset with RZP since it wanted to begin the process to change the law so that Deri can serve as a minister. Deri received a suspended jail sentence in January. If the Central Election Committee (CEC) head, High Court justice Yitzhak Amit, decides that Deri’s actions included moral turpitude, Deri will be barred from serving as a minister for seven years. Shas therefore wants to change the law so that it only applies to actual, and not suspended, jail sentences.
The Interim Finance Committee voted on Monday to appoint UTJ MK Moshe Gafni as interim committee chairman. Gafni served as the chairman intermittently for approximately 10 years since 2009. The vote passed 9-2, with two MKs from the Arab parties—Tibi and Ra’am’s Iman Khatib-Yasin—voting in favor. Yesh Atid’s two representatives opposed.
Gafni said that he intends to hold a comprehensive discussion about the hikes in mortgage payments after the Bank of Israel raised interest rates once again on Monday, making mortgages more expensive. Gafni also said he would discuss the price hikes in dairy products.
“There will be no finance minister who will tell me not to hold discussions on critical social issues that belong to everyone. Let it be known that this committee is different—here we work together, and do only what is good for all of the citizens of Israel,” he said.
Also on Monday, the Interim Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee elected Likud MK Yoav Gallant as its interim head. Gallant is believed to be the leading candidate for defense minister.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz lashed out at the coalition for its intention to pass an Override Clause with just 61 MKs. Such a clause will discriminate against minorities and encourage corruption, Gantz argued.
Gantz said he did support a Basic Law: Legislation that was balanced, such as one that says that two-thirds of a full panel of High Court judges is necessary in order to strike down a law, but also that there must be two-thirds of MKs in order to override a High Court ruling.
It would be a “ramming terror attack against democracy” if Netanyahu passes the law that includes a majority of just 61, Gantz said.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid also spoke at the beginning of his party’s faction meeting. He addressed Likud voters directly, and asked whether a government that “took money from soldiers and gave them to yeshiva students” is what they asked for. Lapid said that the country will soon see how disastrous the upcoming government is going to be, and that he will return to power “quicker than you think.”
“The extremists will not just be a part of the government, they will rule the government,” Lapid warned.
Shas and UTJ Attacked Lapid for His Comments
“Lapid’s immense hate for the haredi and traditional sector is revealed again,” Shas wrote on Twitter. “Lapid, a majority of the citizens of Israel said clearly: we are proud to be Jewish and want to live in a Jewish country,” Shas wrote.
Gafni said at a press conference before UTJ’s faction meeting, “We would have received everything from Lapid if we would have gone with him to a coalition. What did he not promise? What nerve, why did you not say these things for a year-and-a-half?” Gafni said.
UTJ leader Yitzhak Goldknopf said, addressing Lapid, “Today you betrayed the nation of Israel, you hid your true self for half a year. If you were so good, why were you not reelected?”