The ministers of Israel’s 33rd government were sworn in Monday evening in the Knesset in Jerusalem, after a frequently bitter debate — marked by withering criticism from Labor and ultra-Orthodox opposition MKs. The session capped six weeks of intense coalition talks between Likud-Beytenu Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the heads of his three partner parties, Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett and Hatnua chair Tzipi Livni. The Times of Israel liveblogged the ceremonies and debate here.
After six weeks of talks, finally a government
Preamble: After six weeks of wrangling, and hours before the deadline, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu headed to President Shimon Peres’s official residence in Jerusalem on Saturday night to announce that he had succeeded in cobbling together a coalition — comprising 68 of the Knesset’s 120 members. The partner parties: Likud-Beytenu (31 seats), Yesh Atid (19), Jewish Home (12) and Hatnua (6).
Netanyahu has spent the past few days filling the various ministerial posts, and trying to keep his Likud rivals happy — with some success. Hours of talks yesterday finally yielded a deal with Silvan Shalom, a prickly senior Likud figure, whom he really didn’t want to alienate.
The new Cabinet may not be ideal for Netanyahu, who’s heading into his second consecutive term as prime minister, and third term in all (he was PM from 1996-9), but it presents a fascinating lineup that could effect an inward shift in the government’s national focus.
Nowhere was this sea change more apparent than in the deal between the Jewish Home party and Yesh Atid, whose leaders, Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, forged understandings on cost-of-living issues and ultra-Orthodox army enlistment. Striking from their absence from the coalition are the two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas (11 seats) and United Torah Judaism (7), for whom the intended reforms on drafting Haredi males are anathema.
Livni: It will be hard with this coalition to energize peace efforts
Today’s ceremonies will begin with the election of former Diaspora affairs minister Yuli Edelstein as Knesset speaker. Edelstein will then make a brief address. Then Netanyahu will present his government.
All of this is taking place, of course, less than 48 hours before Barack Obama’s scheduled arrival for his first presidential visit.
Tzipi Livni, caught in the Knesset corridors, tells Channel 2 it will be “very difficult” to energize negotiations with the Palestinians — the job on which she will focus as well as being minister of justice. But she’s going to do her best, she says.
Naftali Bennett, the hardline Jewish Home leader and incoming minister of economics and trade, says he opposes any gestures to woo the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. He acknowledges differences with his coalition partners over the issue, and notes, “Brothers can disagree.”
‘Haredim out, settlers in’ — that’s the catchphrase
The plenum is filling up. An awkward handshake between Netanyahu and Shas leader Aryeh Deri, who has been outspokenly bitter about being excluded from the government.
Meretz’s Zahava Gal-on says today’s a “celebratory affair,” but that this government is very hardline — “a government of the settlements,” she calls it.
Haredim out, settlers in — that’s the catchphrase in the Knesset corridors.
It’s also a smaller government, with 22 ministers compared to 30 last time — requiring carpentry in the Knesset for a smaller government table. But there’s no shortage of deputyships and committee head roles to keep many MKs employed and happy.
The event is to include a minute’s silence for former MK Marina Solodkin, who died suddenly of a stroke over the weekend while attending an anti-facism conference in Latvia.
Acting speaker Binyamin Ben-Eliezer is overseeing the gathering at this stage, soon to hand over to Edelstein, who was backed for the post over the well-liked and widely respected speaker of the last Knesset Reuven Rivlin. Rivlin, who has his sights set on succeeding Shimon Peres at president, is fuming over his exclusion.
Edelstein takes over as Knesset speaker
Hanin Zoabi tells Channel 2 this will be “a racist” government and protests clauses in the coalition agreements which pledge to strengthen Israel’s Jewish character.
The Knesset is now voting for Edelstein as speaker — 96 in favor. Edelstein comes to the podium. Ben Eliezer wishes him “all the good in the world” and hands over the speaker’s gavel.
Edelstein, a Likud member and former Soviet prisoner of Zion, takes the speaker’s seat. He thanks Ben Eliezer for presiding over the House in the sessions leading up to today’s swearing-in. He modestly says he didn’t prepare a speech — because until he got the vote in his favor, it would have been premature to believe it would be his.
Edelstein invites Netanyahu to the podium
Edelstein is recalling the period when he was held prisoner in a Soviet work camp for the crime of seeking to immigrate to Israel. He is talking about the day when he was set free. He didn’t know the Hebrew date — they didn’t used to give that out at the work camps, he jokes. It turned out to be the fifth of Iyar — Israel’s independence day.
He tells the listening MKs that they’ve all made their particular ways to the government, all have their personal stories, all came via different paths. But all are here, he says, “to correct things” — to make things better. “My request of you: Let’s not forget… even as we correct what needs to be fixed… that if it were not for the 5th of Iyar… my life and the lives of millions of Israelis… would be so different.”
Edelstein now invites Netanyahu to present his government and its platform.
Netanyahu: It took a lot of skill to put this coalition together
Netanyahu, who was seated between his new Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Silvan Shalom, walks to the microphone.
Barely has he opened his mouth, and there is an interruption. Edelstein: “There’ll be zero tolerance for this kind of thing.”
Netanyahu tries again. He begins by mourning Solodkin — a woman who listened to the voices of the less-privileged, a woman of integrity. All of us “were shocked” to learn of her premature death.
He thanks Israel’s citizens for charging him with running the country a third time. “Our existence here cannot be taken for granted… and our presence here is not accidental,” he declares.
He says his family is here today, and that his deceased relatives, including his fallen brother Yoni, are with him in spirit, as are all the past generations who sought the return to Zion, and those who died in the cause. Our goal is to ensure the future of the Jewish people by ensuring the future of the State of Israel — “the root of our existence.”
Israel’s people expect that we will give them back a country in better shape than the one we received, he says.
Over the past four years, the last government negotiated a global economic crisis and regional destabilization — crises that are ongoing.
He cites achievements including building the Egypt border fence and returning hostage soldier Gilad Shalit. The country is in better shape than it was four years ago. And crucial to its successes were the cooperation in the government and in the Knesset. “I hope and expect” the same spirit of cooperation, he says. “Our government will serve all the people of Israel… and represent everyone.”
Lots of skill was required to put the coalition “cube” together, he says, and Yair Lapid smiles at him.
Netanyahu ready for ‘historic compromise’ for real peace
Netanyahu vows to cut housing prices. He promises to work for a better quality of life for Israelis.
We have “an amazing opportunity” to meet the hopes of very many Israelis.
But we can’t ignore external challenges, he says. “We have to ensure the existence of Israel.” The defense of the country will be the top priority. “We face very great challenges.” Iran is “getting close” to “the red line I drew last September,” and must not be allowed to cross it. Syria’s WMD must “not fall into the hands of terrorists.”
He says Israel will work to advance negotiations with the Palestinians, and to maintain its peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt. “We stretch out our hand to the Palestinians” and are ready for a “historic compromise” for real peace, to end the conflict “once and for all,” he promises. There will need to be compromises from both sides, he says.
Ultra-Orthodox MKs walk out of Knesset ceremony
Netanyahu says Obama’s visit will be an opportunity to thank the American people and its leader for the steadfast relationship. He says he’ll discuss with Obama “the great challenges facing our two peoples” and to work with him in next four years toward peace and to meet the regional challenges.
“There are certain opportunities… the government will have to show enough courage” to counter the challenges and seize the opportunities. “We’ll never forget the heavy responsibility on our shoulders,” he promises, “to ensure the future of our people.”
Now Netanyahu reads through the list of his ministers. As he does the members of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party walk out in protest at their exclusion from government.
Yachimovich: The coalition is utterly out of touch with the people
Netanyahu returns to his seat, shaking hands with various coalition members. With Lapid, with Bennett.
Opposition leader and Labor chair Shelly Yachimovich takes the podium. She says that for all the talk of new politics, the building of the coalition was all “old, and familiar, and not terribly pleasant, but legitimate.” So let’s make this clear, she says: “We’re your opposition” and we’ll be arguing with you over “the vision for this country.”
It will be a “bitter ideological argument,” she says. “We already have two countries for two peoples” and the coalition talks painfully proved it. The coalition parties are “thirsty and rich… and don’t understand what the people want.” Netanyahu, Lapid, Bennett, Livni, she says, are all from well-connected families, capitalists, with no financial problems.
She has something good to say to Netanyahu, nonetheless, for seeking to bring Labor into the coalition. But “you are a right-winger” economically and diplomatically. We both know you wanted Labor in the coalition, but you couldn’t manage in the weeks of negotiations to acknowledge “that there was perhaps something correct in our [Labor] worldview.”
Many in the coalition have good intentions, she says. “But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
She turns to incoming Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who she says earned NIS 2.6 million last year ($700,000), and NIS 3.7 million the year before. “That’s not middle class,” she spits.
Now she talks of ordinary Israelis who cannot remotely get through the month, facing impossible rents and bills, and for whom current government policy provides unfair allocations and inadequate safety nets. “And now you’re going to cut more, in the next budget” from the wrong places — from education, and from health.
Labor leader to PM: On any accord with the Palestinians, we’ll support you
Yachimovich continues, in what is a strikingly passionate speech: People have the right to normal lives, to make an honest living, to have a roof over their heads, to go the cinema sometime, fly abroad once every few years, have a guitar lesson, a full fridge. “The right to peace of mind” — to a real future, not merely to survive.
She calls this a government of “marginalization,” not of inclusion, noting the exclusion of the ultra-Orthodox from its ranks, too.
Netanyahu doesn’t seem to be listening too closely. He’s discussing some paperwork with Ya’alon at his right.
In the coalition accords, “there isn’t even hope,” she says.
“Your victory picture is a photo without the ultra-Orthodox. What kind of achievement is that?” she asks.
She predicts no progress on the diplomatic front. No progress on civil marriage. “What’s new? Never has the ‘new’ looked so old.”
Now the Labor leader turns to the Obama visit. She quotes her former party leader, the assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, calling for “an end to the bloodshed” and the start of an era of friendship and coexistence. “I find it hard to see you saying those words,” she says to Netanyahu.
But she heard the promise of progress in Netanyahu’s speech, she says, and so she promises him her support if he is poised to make real progress and needs Labor’s votes. “If you get even to an interim agreement… I promise you, what I said to you face-to-face,” she says, “we will join your government in order to see through such a move.”
Yachimovich promises fighting but fair-minded opposition
The Labor leader briefly eulogizes Marina Solodkin.
Finally, Yachimovich “promises” a fighting opposition. But “fair-minded” and “respectful” and “patriotic” — ready to support you in anything righteous that you do.
The Knesset will now break away for party discussions, before reconvening in two to three hours time for ministers to be sworn in.
Praise for former speaker Rivlin
A series of MKs are taking the podium for six-minute speeches.
Micky Levy (Yesh Atid), for instance, defends party colleague Yaakov Peri, who was attacked by Shelly Yachimovich for his high earnings in business before entering the Knesset.
Eitan Cabel (Labor) pays tribute to the former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, who nods back his appreciation.
Then Cabel turns to the issue of the Palestinians, barely mentioned thus far, he says, “but the crisis is ahead of us” on the Palestinian front. It’s the key issue, he says to Yair Lapid, and for all that Lapid and Bennett are “brothers,” Lapid needs to be aware of the differences between Yesh Atid and Jewish Home on it.
Uri Orbach (Jewish Home) also praises Rivlin — for the way you ran the Knesset and “the grace with which you left the position.”
Ultra-Orthodox politicians attack ‘shameful’ government
Shas’s Eli Yishai protests the looming budget cuts and the exclusion of the ultra-Orthodox from the coalition. “I’m sorry to spoil the celebratory atmosphere,” he says, but he fears “a cruel budget” that will deeply harm Israel’s impoverished sectors. “We’ll be there for those who are pleading for bread… we’ll do everything we can to help.”
Voters didn’t expect a government that would so harm the weaker sectors, he says.
Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism, whose party walked out during Netanyahu’s speech, follows Yishai. He starts by sarcastically thanking the authorities for allowing him to speak even though he has a beard and wears a skullcap.
“This is the first time that a government has been formed in Israel,” he says, that “shamefully” says “no to the ultra-Orthodox, to Torah study” and says “yes to the tearing apart” of the Jewish people.
Yair Lapid first pushed “to exclude us” and now says he’ll “take care of us,” Litzman protests. And Bennett’s Jewish Home party is no better, he says.
Lapid cares about the ultra-Orthodox like Arab MK Ahmed Tibi cares about the settlements, he says. Sitting in opposition will be no great punishment, he adds.
Meretz leader: Billions will flow to the settlements
Elazar Stern (Hatnua), a former IDF manpower chief, who is Orthodox, rises to take issue with the ultra-Orthodox claims that they were “boycotted” in the coalition negotiations.
Plenty of debate ensues between Stern at the podium, and Litzman, now back in his seat — each accusing the other of delegitimization.
Meretz leader Zahava Gal-on is up next, protesting that “billions” will continue to flow to the settlements. Lapid, by partnering Bennett, will preside over the “rehabilitation” of the settlements. The Defense Ministry, the ministries of Housing, Agriculture, Economy and Trade, the Knesset Finance Committee, are all in the hands of pro-settlement camp, she says. “We wanted a government of peace,” she says. But Netanyahu will be presenting a right-wing, extremist, pro-settlement government “with just a few sane voices.”
Arab MK: New gov’t won’t take ‘a single step’ to peace
Ibrahim Tzartzur (United Arab List) says the entire Arab world is ready to make peace with Israel tomorrow, if Israel only accepts all relevant UN resolutions since 1948.
He urges Israel to release all pre-Oslo Accord prisoners, some of whom are extremely ill, he says.
Mohammad Barakeh (Hadash) attacks the likely spending on settlements, and the lack of allocations for “the periphery” and the Arab community. It’s a dangerous government, he says.
He vows a parliamentary and public struggle against looming budget cuts.
He says Yesh Atid, for all its rhetoric about seeking peace, has no positions of power in government from which to advance the peace process. “No peace will emerge” from “the fraud” of promises about peace progress. “I don’t trust this government to take a single step forward” with the Palestinians, Barake says.
He also asks “how dare you ask the Arabs” of Israel to take a greater share of the burden — via some form of national service. “What, to take a share in the occupation?” he protests. “A hundred years won’t suffice to correct the injustices done” to local Arabs, he says.
Balad’s Jamal Zahalka follows, accusing Lapid of “racism” for refusing to sit in opposition with those Lapid called the “Zoabis” — a reference to Hanin Zoabi, the Balad MK who sailed on the ill-fated Mavi Marmara to Gaza in 2010.
Labor MK: Word ‘peace’ not cited once in coalition deals
Labor’s Merav Michaeli says “there is not a single use of the word ‘peace’ in the coalition agreements.”
The media has been dazzled by the Lapid-Bennett partnership, she says, but it does not offer glad tidings. Its position on the Palestinians will be uncompromising.
Michaeli protests Netanyahu’s earlier speech, full of talk of security “threats” rather than a vision for a better future.
Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List) notes that the coalition agreements provide no timetable for Palestinian statehood. He welcomes the ultra-Orthodox parties to the opposition, and says they share some social causes, and highlights their “passion.”
Haredi MK says coalition accords are unworkable
Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) slams the coalition agreements for outrageously discriminating against the ultra-Orthodox. The arrangements for drafting the ultra-Orthodox have not been thought through properly, he claims, and are unworkable.
To underline his point, Gafni tears up what he says are print-outs of the coalition accords at the end of his address.
Shas’s Ya’akov Margi follows up in similar vein, wondering why the ultra-Orthodox weren’t even offered the opportunity to join the government within the framework of the accords agreed upon by Likud-Beytenu, Yesh Atid and Jewish Home. Even that dignity was not afforded the ultra-Orthodox, even though they would have said no, he says.
He ridicules the talk of a smaller cabinet — noting that the previous cabinet of 30 has been replaced by one with 22 ministers and eight deputies. Do the math, he urges. There’s no difference, no new politics.
“The prime minister won’t run this government,” he claims. “Rather, the sectoral parties… who are deaf to all other sectors.” It’s “a lousy government,” he says. Shas kept you in power these past four years, he tells (the absent) Netanyahu, and yet the prime minister casually threw away the ultra-Orthodox. “We’ll follow the money” from the opposition, he pledges.
Youngest MK says Israel ‘selling off its natural resources’
Labor’s former social protest leader Stav Shaffir protests the looming cuts in higher education.
She also says Israel is “selling off its natural resources” — referring to the terms for distribution of income from natural gas discoveries off-shore.
Shaffir, the youngest female MK ever at 27, worries that housing reforms, ostensibly designed to help young Israeli bread-winning couples, will be skewed to bring more income to contractors, and that eligibility criteria for affordable housing will be not be sensibly designed.
She urges cancellation of the two-year budget — a modest suggestion from a young MK, she says — looking straight at Finance Minister-elect Lapid, who smiles back. That would “save a lot of pain,” she says.
Deri: We were ready to ‘share the burden’
Yuli Edelstein is back in the speaker’s chair, and Aryeh Deri of Shas is at the podium, “blessing with all my heart” the prime minister and his new government.
But he says millions are dismayed by the new government, which does not represent them.
Shas negotiated in good faith to enter the coalition. We were ready to compromise on an arrangement to “share the burden” — a reference to an increase in the numbers of ultra-Orthodox males going into army service — but what became clear was that the goal of the coalition was to exclude the ultra-Orthodox.
“There’ll be no one there with a beard or a skullcap” to “ruin” the picture of the new government with the president, Deri says. “Great achievement… Treasure the picture.”
Deri too does the arithmetic, saying the new government is no leaner than its predecessor — given all the deputy ministers. “You didn’t save any money,” he says to Lapid.
You’ll discover that the ultra-Orthodox weren’t the ones siphoning off undeserved money, he claims. “The little they get is less than they deserve.” He urges Lapid to remember that “behind every cutback, there is a family” that will suffer.
Likud MK: Why does Labor never blame Palestinians for peace failures?
“There’ll be no progress” with the Palestinians with this government, says Labor’s Isaac Herzog, “and all the promises to the contrary are empty.”
Tzipi Livni can try “but she’ll run into a wall.”
Herzog says “there’s not an ounce of faith” between Netanyahu and his coalition partners. He quotes Lapid saying Netanyahu has lost control of his own Likud party. “And Lapid is right… The party of government is collapsing.”
He quotes Livni saying in the past that Netanyahu “stirs up hatred” between the sectors of Israeli society, and predicts relentless in-fighting in the coalition, vowing that Labor will battle the government in the economic and diplomatic spheres.
Ofir Akunis (Likud), who will serve as a deputy minister liaising between the government and the Knesset, recalls that critics thought the last government wouldn’t survive a year, and it managed four.
“I don’t accept this picture of Israel as a country where everything is bad,” he says. “It’s not perfect… but it’s certainly not all bad.”
Akunis ridicules opposition claims that the new government will make no progress toward peace, asking why Labor and other opponents “never blame the other side” — the Palestinians — for the lack of progress.
And while Labor’s Herzog talks about Likud falling apart, Akunis says, it is Labor that needs to worry about disharmony in its ranks.
Debate wrapping up; gov’t to be sworn in shortly
Gilad Erdan, Likud’s incoming Home Front Defense and Communications Minister, wraps up the debate ahead of the swearing-in of the individual ministers.
He takes issue with Yachimovich’s bitter speech, attacking the lack of government ideology. He cites her salary, of NIS 56,000, in response to her mention of the (far higher) salaries of Yair Lapid and Yaakov Peri.
Overall, Erdan says, Israel has been doing pretty well lately — socially and economically — especially by comparison to many of its neighbors.
Ministers are gathering again in the plenum now, for the resumption of the swearing-in ceremony. Yachimovich is texting; Netanyahu is talking with Shas Mks and United Torah Judaism MKs. He’s having a long chat with Shas’s Eli Yishai. They may not be in the coalition together, but the personal bridges are evidently not broken.
Final queries ahead of the swearing-in
Speaker Yuli Edelstein calls the House to order.
Yaakov Litzman (UTJ) and Dov Hanin (Hadash) ask whether there are coalition agreements — including verbal agreements — that have not been made public.
Isaac Herzog (Labor) also asks about unpublished agreements — between the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu.
Edelstein refers the questions to the Knesset’s legal adviser. He is immediately told that relevant such agreements must be made available before the vote on a new government. He says Minister Erdan has made all such relevant agreements available — Erdan nods his confirmation.
Are there are any relevant verbal agreements, Edelstein asks?
Erdan: All relevant understandings have been made public.
Herzog protests that Likud and Yisrael-Beytenu are not a single faction, and that this affects agreements between them.
Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman responds that “these are two parties, but a single faction.”
Yesh Atid makes clear that it has no unpublished agreements with Jewish Home. Jewish Home confirms.
New Netanyahu government approved
Edelstein asks MKs to vote on Netanyahu’s government — its platform and its personnel.
Amid some light-hearted banter, Edelstein calls for a vote by name — as requested by some MKs.
MKs are invited, one at a time, to vote.
The result: 68 in favor; 48 against; 4 abstained or absent
Israel has a new government.
Next comes the swearing-in.
Netanyahu sworn in as prime minister
Edelstein formally notes that the government “has received the support” of parliament, and moves on to the swearing-in of ministers.
He invites Netanyahu first to take the oath of office.
Netanyahu, at the podium, gives his name and that of his parents, and swears allegiance to the state of Israel and its laws in his role as prime minister, promising to fulfill his job in good faith, and to accept the decisions of the parliament. Watching from the gallery are Netanyahu’s wife Sara and his two sons.
Ministers now follow in alphabetical order, beginning with Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich, one of the few ministers not to have changed jobs since the elections.
Ministers take oath of office, with plenty of hugging
Each minister walks to the podium, takes the oath, and returns to handshakes and hugs from colleagues and rivals. Yael German, the first female minister to take the oath today, gets a big bunch of flowers.
Speaker Edelstein is also kissing some ministers on each cheek after they deliver the oath. (Yisrael Katz, Transportation, prefers a handshake.)
The hugs are taking so long that Edelstein asks the MKs to hurry it all along.
The Yesh Atid party MKs are engaged in some heavy group hugging.
Last ministers take the oath, ceremony finishes
The last few ministers are taking the oath of office now, in what has been quite a protracted ceremony.
Yesh Atid’s ministers’ return from the oath to a scrum of well-wishing embraces. For the Likud, by contrast, it’s more polite handshakes.
Silvan Shalom, who spent much of yesterday negotiating with Netanyahu for a “significant” role, takes the oath, and enjoys a particularly warm embrace with speaker Edelstein.
Finally, Yair Shamir — son of former Likud prime minister Yitzhak, the last of the alphabetical roster — takes the oath.
Edelstein congratulates Netanyahu and his government in the name of the Knesset and on behalf of the country.
And that, for today, is that.
Thanks for spending the last few hours with us. This Knesset session, and this live blog, are over.