Israel’s 21st Knesset is to be sworn in today, three weeks after the country’s general election on 9 April.
The ceremony will take place at 16:00 local time [13:00 GMT] in Jerusalem and will see the new Knesset’s 120 members sworn in. Forty-nine of these Knesset members (MKs) are “freshmen”, among them Hadash-Ta’al’s only Jewish candidate, Ofer Cassif; heads of the Ra’am-Balad alliance Mansour Abbas and Mtanes Shehadeh; and Heba Yazbak, a Nazareth-born Balad MK who, at 34 years old, is one of the youngest women to enter Knesset.
After today’s ceremony, a regular Knesset session will be held, during which MKs will elect the Knesset speaker. On Sunday, newly-re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backed incumbent speaker Yuli Edelstein – who is also Netanyahu’s number two in the Likud party – to remain in the position. If Edelstein is chosen, this will be his third consecutive term.
The Knesset will officially begin its new session on 9 May, the 71st anniversary of Israel’s founding, which Palestinians commemorate as the Nakba.
The swearing in comes amid ongoing talks between Netanyahu and leaders of Israel’s right-wing parties, which are expected to make up his ruling coalition. Although talks only officially began this week following the Jewish holiday of Passover, party heads have been engaged in discussions since Netanyahu declared victory on 9 April.
The new coalition is expected to closely resemble Netanyahu’s current government, being comprised of the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ), Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party. The Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP) – which is comprised of the three religious-Zionist parties Jewish Home, National Union and Otzma Yehudit – is also expected to join the government.
Notably absent from the ruling coalition will be former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who left the Jewish Home party to form the New Right (Hayemin HeHadash) party. The pair suffered a spectacular defeat in the election, failing to pass the 3.25 per cent minimum threshold needed to win a place in the Knesset.
Talks to form the ruling coalition have exposed the fragility of Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc which, if all of the above parties agree to join, will hold 65 Knesset seats. Given that 61 seats are needed for a majority government, every party except Kulanu holds enough seats to bring down the coalition if its members disagree with the government’s policies.
Some party leaders have already been exercising their new-found power, notably former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman who has made a series of stringent demands in return for his support. Earlier this month reports emerged that Lieberman would once again demand the defence portfolio, the position from which he resigned in November following a disagreement over Israel’s policy in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Lieberman has also conditioned his support on passing the Haredi draft law, which seeks to conscript ultra-Orthodox youth into the Israeli army. The law is vehemently opposed by the ultra-Orthodox parties, prompting them to begin talks to form a “blocking agreement” which will see them work together to curtail Lieberman’s power in the coalition.