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Israel: coalition talks face serious issues

November 21, 2022 at 9:56 am

Former Israeli Prime Minister and Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu attends during a campaign event in Tel Aviv, Israel on October 30, 2022. [Mostafa Alkharouf – Anadolu Agency]

Coalition talks for the next Israeli government are making little progress, with the far-right Otzma Yehudit party led by extremist MK Itamar Ben-Gvir saying yesterday that it was breaking off negotiations due to huge differences, not least over ministerial posts. According to local media, the party accused Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud of pulling away from an agreement to appoint a member of the far-right party as the head of the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee.

“Contrary to an earlier agreement, Likud retracted and now refuses to give the additional ministry — the Negev, the Galilee and the social periphery — to Otzma Yehudit,” the Times of Israel reported an anonymous party official as saying. “Strengthening the Negev, the Galilee, and the periphery is our election promise, and we were elected to fulfil election promises.”

Netanyahu is also facing a standoff with Religious Zionism, led by extremist MK Bezalel Smotrich, who has been insisting on getting the Defence or Finance Ministry. The Likud leader refuses to make Smotrich Minister of Defence, explained the newspaper, due to his lack of military experience, potentially inflammatory plans, expected international outrage and other concerns.

Even after a Likud member compared him to Hamas leader Yahya Al-Sinwar in Gaza, Smotrich said that he remains committed to his partnership with the likely ruling party. “We are a full partner of the national camp and of Likud,” he insisted. “We will stand by our demands in order to ensure the establishment of a good, stable government as soon as possible that will… advance genuine right-wing policies.”

Ben-Gvir addressing the Likud with a call to stop the “unnecessary” fighting within the nationalist camp. “The time has come for a true right-wing government. The public that elected us is waiting.”

Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit and the anti-LGBTQ+ Noam party, which ran in the General Election together, split into three separate parties on Sunday, undoing a technical alliance set up for the purpose of the election. While the joint ticket won 14 seats in the Knesset, Religious Zionism now holds seven, Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit six and Noam one.

Further complicating the coalition negotiations, the Times of Israel said, Religious Zionism is reportedly demanding that Netanyahu should commit to annexing parts of the West Bank as part of the coalition agreements. “We are working on detailed agreements on subjects connected to the national camp including the issue of sovereignty,” said the party. “We’re leaving the details behind closed doors.”

Another crisis facing Netanyahu is the refusal of the leader of Shas, Aryeh Deri, to back down from his demand for the Finance Ministry, reported Kan public broadcaster. Moreover, Smotrich refused Netanyahu’s request to meet with Deri to discuss the Finance Ministry post.

Sources close to Smotrich said in response that he is demanding the Defence Ministry. “Negotiations on the Finance Ministry are behind us.”

Netanyahu, whose far-right bloc won 64 of the 120 Knesset seats, officially received a mandate to form a government last Sunday, giving him 28 days to assemble a majority coalition. This period could be extended for a further 14 days by Israel’s President Isaac Herzog.

READ: Ben-Gvir implements Smotrich separation agreement in Knesset