President Shimon Peres made his entrance to the Knesset grounds Tuesday afternoon accompanied by the IDF military band and an honor guard on horseback. The president placed a wreath on the monument for fallen soldiers before leading the 120 MKs to the Knesset plenum for their first official session.
The day’s festivities began with the height of pomp and decorum. Held at the Knesset’s Chagall Lounge, a record 48 new faces were among the 120 MKs to be sworn into the legislature, including all 19 lawmakers-to-be from the greenhorn Yesh Atid party.
The crop of new MKs includes a number of former journalists, a smattering of local politicians and activists, a rabbi originally from the US, a high-tech millionaire and, why not, a former judo coach.
More than 1,000 people attended the ceremony. Among the guests were Supreme Court President Asher Grunis, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, the chief rabbis, the heads of the Shin Bet and the Mossad, and foreign diplomats.
The ceremonyfeaturede a performance of “Yam Harahamim” by popular singer Kobi Aflalo, the reading of verses from the book of Psalms and the playing of a short recording from David Ben Gurion’s 1948 declaration of independence.
The brief session — during which the pledge of loyalty to the state and its laws will be read out and the MKs will stand up and take their oaths one by one — will be chaired by interim Knesset Speaker Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who is the legislature’s eldest member.
Following the ceremony, the party heads will meet to toast the new Knesset and have their pictures taken.
Coalition talks are still ongoing and it will likely take a few more weeks before the dust settles and the 120 MKs choose their sides. In the meantime, MKs will be allotted temporary offices, until the Knesset goes on recess starting March 15.
The record number of new faces is a sign of Israelis’ clamoring for a new type of politics, according to Yair Lapid, a former journalist with no political experience who led Yesh Atid to its strong showing in elections two weeks ago.
Aside from the high number of newcomers, the 19th Knesset will also see a record number of women, 27. One of those women, Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich, is set to meet with Netanyahu Tuesday to discuss coalition negotiations, despite already vowing to legislate from the opposition.
According to Likud officials, Netanyahu, who is holding marathon talks with party leaders in an effort to establish a coalition, asked to meet with Yachimovich in hopes that she might provide him with alternatives to Yesh Atid.
According to Channel 2 News on Monday night, Netanyahu has told aides that “What interests Lapid is to be prime minister” rather than to build an effective government. And Likud sources sneered later Monday that Yesh Atid was already betraying its voters by talking of staying out of the government when the party had pledged to join the coalition before and immediately after the elections.
Yesh Atid is still Netanyahu’s best bet for a major coalition partner, but the prime minister and his No. 2, Avigdor Liberman, were both reported Monday to be in constant touch with former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, head of newly formed Hatnua party, hoping to bring her into the government, or at least have her party’s potential support as a coalition option.
Netanyahu’s insistence this week that he wants to revive peace talks and oversee a “sober” but genuine effort at progress, sources close to him said, was designed in part to win over Livni, who would not join a coalition that was not pushing for progress with the Palestinians.
Of the 48 new MKs, seven are in the process of giving up citizenships they hold in other countries, as per Knesset rules. Yesh Atid’s Rabbi Dov Lipman, originally from Maryland, gave up his US passport last week and will become the first American-born MK since the late Meir Kahane.
Asher Zeiger contributed to this report.