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Arab party agrees to join governing coalition for first time in Israel’s history

What happened: Last night, less than an hour before the official deadline, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid informed President Rivlin that he had succeeded in forming a coalition.

  • Lapid held last minute negotiations with United Arab List leader Mansour Abbas and right-wing Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, who will serve first in a rotating prime minister role.
  • Lapid told Rivlin: “I commit to you Mr. President, that this government will work to serve all the citizens of Israel including those who aren’t members of it, will respect those who oppose it, and do everything in its power to unite all parts of Israeli society.”
  • Abbas said: “I signed for Lapid my consent that he could announce that he has succeeded in forming a government after we reached a critical mass of agreements on different issues that serve the interests of Arab society and provide solutions to its urgent problems in a large number of different spheres … this agreement contains many things that are for the benefit of Arab society and for the benefit of Israeli society in general. There are a lot of plans in the agreement that was reached and, of course, also significant budgetary allocations to provide a solution to the issues.”
  • Abbas added: “This is the first time that an Arab party is a partner to forming the government … we said from the outset: we aren’t interested in a fifth election; we want a government to be formed that serves all the citizens of the country, including the Arab citizens.”
  • The factions that will form the government includes, two centrist parties, two left wing parties, three right wing parties and the Islamic party.  The signatories of the deal include:

o   Yesh Atid – led by Yair Lapid, (17 seats)

o   Blue and White – led by Benny Gantz (8 seats)

o   Yisrael Beiteinu – led by Avigdor Lieberman (7 seats)

o   Labour – led by Merav Michaeli (7 seats)

o   Yamina – led by Naftali Bennett (6 seats*)

o   New Hope – led by Gideon Sa’ar (6 seats)

o   Meretz – led by Nitzan Horowitz (6 seats)

o   Raam – led by Mansour Abbas (4 seats)

  • In parallel, the Knesset yesterday elected Isaac ‘Buji’ Herzog as the next president of Israel.  He won a convincing majority of 87 votes to 26 against Mirium Peretz, an educator and social activist.

Context: The formation of the new government would break the political deadlock and represents a significant victory for Lapid, who succeeded bringing together such a broad and varied coalition.

  • The new government will have an alternating premiership in the same format as the outgoing government. Bennett will serve in the first two years as prime minister, while Lapid will serve as the alternate prime minister and foreign minister.
  • The new government is expected to include 27 ministers, with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to remain defence minister, Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman as finance minister, New Hope leader Gideon Saar to become justice minister, Labour Party’s leader Merav Michaeli to take on the transportation ministry and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz to be Israel’s new health minister.
  • *Yamina were elected with seven seats, but one of their MKs has refused to join the coalition, with a second one wavering.  This could also affect the coalition’s ability to quickly replace the Knesset speaker, unless they receive external support from the other Israeli-Arab faction, the Joint List.
  • The details of the agreement with the United Arab List are still to be negotiated. Among their demands is the repeal of the Kamenitz Law, that relates to building permits and the phenomena of illegal construction.  A second related issue is the legalisation of unrecognised Bedouin communities in the south.
  • One of the other sticking points was Yamina’s number two Ayelet Shaked’s insistence on being on the Judges Selection Committee in place of Labour leader Merav Michaeli. In the end they agreed to a rotation on the committee, with Labour being compensated with an additional deputy ministerial position.
  • President-elect Herzog is currently the head of the Jewish Agency, having served in the past as leader of the Labour Party and government minister. He is the son of Israel’s sixth President, Chaim Herzog.
  • For the first time ever both the incumbent prime minister and president will have Anglo roots. Bennett’s parents are originally from the US, whist Herzog’s grandfather was from Ireland, where he served as their chief rabbi before becoming the first chief rabbi of Israel.

Looking ahead: Prime Minister Netanyahu will remain in position until the new government is formally voted in by the Knesset. In the next few days, MKs from the right-wing coalition partners are expected to come under enormous pressure from the Likud to pull out.

  • To expedite the process, the newly formed coalition will look to take control of the legislative process by replacing the Speaker of the Knesset. This vote could take place on Monday, with Yesh Atid’s Mickey Levy due to replace outgoing speaker Yariv Levin from the Likud.    
  • The final details of the coalition agreements with the United Arab List have not yet been concluded, and the negotiations will continue until the government is sworn in.
  • President-elect Herzog will begin his seven year position when he is inaugurated on 9 July.
  • If the coalition deal holds, Lapid is due to take over as prime minister in August 2023.

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