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New government vote delayed to Sunday

What happened: Last night’s swearing-in ceremony for the new Israeli national unity government has been delayed to Sunday afternoon in order to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu more time to distribute ministry portfolios to his party.

  • Blue and White leader Benny Gantz initially refused the request by Netanyahu, suspecting that the delay was to buy time to scrap the coalition agreement signed between to the two leaders in late April. As yesterday’s scheduled swearing in ceremony approached with clear signs it was not going to happen, a joint statement by the two parties was released in which Gantz agreed to the delay, but would withdraw his resignation as Knesset speaker as well.
  • Yesterday’s drama unfolded when Rafi Peretz decided to quit the Yamina Party and enter the new government as the next minister of Jerusalem, heritage and national projects. He will also be an observer in the security cabinet and a member of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. Peretz and Netanyahu reached agreement this morning after reports yesterday suggested that Netanyahu had backtracked on his offer.
  • The Prime Minister’s Office congratulated Peretz on the appointment, saying: “Minister Peretz showed responsibility toward religious Zionism and will be a central partner in the government that will be established.”
  • Several Likud MKs who aspired to ministerial positions were dissatisfied with the jobs that Netanyahu offered them, whilst MKs Tzahi Hanegbi and Avi Dichter were angered when Netanyahu did not offer them anything at all. A Likud official has claimed that Netanyahu was dividing up the portfolios in order to undermine a faction that endorsed Gideon Sa’ar in the party primary last December.
  • Outgoing Defence Minister and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett has denied reports of his party’s continuing negotiation with Likud, claiming it’s “a spin” by the ruling party. “Netanyahu erased sovereignty from the [government’s] fundamental principles,” Bennett said, suggesting this was because the matter “insulted Gantz’s and [Gabi] Ashkenazi’s secretly leftist feelings”.

Context: Talks between the Likud and Yamina collapsed earlier this week, with Bennett accusing Netanyahu of deliberately edging him out, while Likud rebuked Bennett for what it described as excessive political demands that did not align with Yamina’s six Knesset seats.

  • The end result leaves Netanyahu with two right-wing parties in the opposition, Yamina and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, a situation he has tried to avoid in the past, preferring instead to position himself in the centre of his cabinet. He will be wary of being outflanked by Bennett and Lieberman in the opposition
  • Netanyahu announced last night that he would appoint outgoing Culture Minister Miri Regev as the next transportation and national infrastructure minister. When the prime minister rotates in a year and a half, she will then be foreign minister.
  • Outgoing Justice Minister Amir Ohana will be appointed public security minister, whilst Miki Zohar will be chairman of the coalition and chairman of the Likud faction, and will subsequently be appointed a minister.
  • Yesterday the Likud and Blue and White released the policy principles of the new government, as instructed by the High Court of Justice ahead of the swearing-in ceremony. The document said the new government will deal with the coronavirus pandemic and formulate a plan to extract Israel from the economic crisis, while rolling out a “socioeconomic safety net” and special programmes for citizens who are struggling financially. The new government “will strengthen national security, will strive for peace, will guarantee the wellbeing and safety of all citizens of the state,” as well as “act substantively and practically to bridge between all parts of the public”.

Looking ahead: The Likud and Blue and White have until midnight on Wednesday, 20 May, to swear in the new government before new elections are automatically triggered. Most ministerial positions have now been publicly filled by both sides, suggesting that the coalition will be sworn in next week.