JERUSALEM (VINnews) — Israel’s laboring coalition negotiations appear to have made some progress Monday, as Religious Zionism leader Betzalel Smotrich agreed to relinquish his demand for the Defense Ministry and become finance minister in the emerging government.
Smotrich had demanded the Defense Ministry, which would have given him significant control over Judea and Samaria and over the daily lives of Palestinians. Such an appointment was fiercely opposed by the United States as well as by Israelis, including right-wing figures, who noted Smotrich’s lack of IDF military service and security experience.
However reports in Israeli media said that Religious Zionism will still hold some sway over policies in Judea and Samaria, as they will appoint a minister within the Defense Ministry who will be subordinate to the Defense Minister, who will likely be Likud MK Yoav Gallant, a former IDF general and candidate for Chief of Staff.
Smotrich’s appointment means that Aryeh Deri, who was the main candidate for the Treasury, will also relinquish his designs but instead will receive a “super-ministry” which will include the interior ministry and transportation ministry, as well as receiving the title of Deputy Prime Minister.
According to Israel’s channel 12, Deri’s Shas party is also set to receive the coveted Religious Affairs ministry, which has been a source of contention between Shas and Religious Zionism. Shas will also reportedly receive the Negev and Galilee Ministry as well as either the Health or Welfare ministries and the Diaspora Affairs ministry.
However Deri’s appointment faces legal hurdles, since currently the law bars individuals sentenced to prison time from serving as a minister for seven years. Deri was convicted of several tax offenses earlier this year and received a 12-month suspended sentence, ostensibly barring him from receiving another cabinet post. According to a Friday Channel 12 news report, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has clarified that the Basic Law referred to both suspended sentences and jail time. Shas members have drafted a bill to change the Basic Law and exclude suspended sentences from the prohibition on taking ministerial appointments.
Shas’s generous deal has reportedly raised the ire of both the Likud and UTJ, who are claiming that they will now receive much less than their share of government ministries.
According to Channel 12, Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit party, will be named public security minister, giving him control over the police, and his party will also take the Agriculture Ministry. Otzma Yehudit had been demanding the Negev and Galilee Ministry, threatening Sunday to break off negotiations with Likud if its demand wasn’t met, but will apparently settle for the Agriculture Ministry.
Ben Gvir’s appointment includes an understanding with Likud that the ministry will have expanded power over the Israel Police, with changes to be made to a police order that governs the relationship, Haaretz reported.
The report cited an unnamed senior figure in the law enforcement system as worrying such an arrangement “significantly harms the independence of the police and the commissioner and lets the politician determine how the police will act.”
Otzma Yehudit responded, stating that “We do not address what is happening in the negotiation rooms, but we also assure readers of Haaretz that we are working day and night to restore rule of law to the street.”
The current framework would remove some of the obstacles which have prevented Netanyahu until now from forming a government.