With its prospects of forming a government shrinking, Likud recently offered Religious Zionism’s MK Itamar Ben Gvir a ministerial position in return for his support for a coalition propped up by the Islamist Ra’am party, Channel 12 News reported Monday.
In an interview with Channel 12 news before the election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said the far-right Ben Gvir, leader of the Otzma Yehudit faction in the Relgious Zionism party, would not be given a position of influence, including being a minister or heading a Knesset committee. Netanyahu said at the time that Ben Gvir was “not fit” to be a member of his cabinet.
The prime minister engineered the merger of Religious Zionism with the Otzma Yehudit and Noam parties ahead of the election to ensure they passed the Knesset threshold and prevent the potential loss of right-wing votes to back him as Israel’s leader.
The report said Ben Gvir said he refused to cooperate with anyone “who supports harming soldiers,” in reference to Ra’am. Ra’am’s charter calls Zionism racist and backs a right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Religious Zionism has accused Ra’am of supporting terrorists.
Ben Gvir has encouraged non-Jews to emigrate from Israel and called for the expulsion of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs “who are not loyal to the state.” Before running for Knesset, Ben Gvir worked as a lawyer, making a practice of representing Jewish terror suspects, while launching his nascent political career.
Religious Zionism party chairman Bezalel Smotrich on Sunday reiterated his objection to sitting in a coalition backed by Ra’am, saying the creation of a center-left government or new elections, which would be the fifth within two and a half years, were preferable options.
Netanyahu has two weeks left to form a government, an increasingly difficult task requiring the backing of Ra’am, the approval of Religious Zionism, and the inclusion of Naftali Bennet’s party, Yamina. Negotiating teams from Yamina and Netanyahu’s Likud have been meeting intensively in recent days to try and solidify a deal.
Lingering in the background of coalition negotiations is Monday’s vote to establish the Arrangements Committee, a key parliamentary panel which is expected to be headed by key Netanyahu ally, Miki Zohar.
The Arrangements Committee, the first Knesset committee to be formed after an election, determines which parliamentary committees will be formed and who will serve on them. Crucially, it also controls the legislative agenda in the new parliament until a new government is formed.
Yamina’s Bennett is weighing whether to ally with the anti-Netanyahu bloc’s proposal for the committee’s configuration. The opposition’s proposal grants Yamina two representatives on the panel, compared to Likud’s proposal, which would grant the party only one. With two representatives, Yamina would hold the tie-breaking vote.
In recent days, Netanyahu has tried to court long-time political rival Gideon Sa’ar to join his right-wing government, though Sa’ar, who broke away from Likud to establish New Hope ahead of March’s election, remains opposed.
In light of negotiating deadlocks, a new effort to reintroduce direct elections for prime minister is being advanced by right-wing party leaders in a bid to break the political logjam, block Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid’s path to the premiership, and prevent a fifth consecutive Knesset election.
The proposal would see a special election held for Israelis to pick the next prime minister. There would not be another election for the Knesset, after the vote held last month. A similar proposal was floated amid political deadlock after the September 2019 elections, and went nowhere.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.