Shas chief Aryeh Deri on Monday engaged in a shouting match with presumptive prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Hebrew media reports, accusing him of reneging on unspecified agreements the two had made as part of ongoing coalition talks.
Television reports on the contentious meeting came as Netanyahu sat down with far-right Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, after which the latter reported progress in negotiations to assemble a new government.
The right-religious bloc led by Netanyahu secured a majority of Knesset seats in the November 1 election, but his efforts to put together a coalition swiftly have stalled, due to disagreements between his allies over the allocation of ministerial posts.
According to Channel 12 news, Deri fumed to Netanyahu that his ultra-Orthodox Shas party had made concessions to help facilitate the coalition’s formation, and that they were not reciprocated.
“We responded to your requests and gave up the Treasury, which was close to my heart, and afterward the Negev and Galilee [Ministry], to allow you to reach an agreement with Otzma Yehudit, and you are backtracking on agreements,” Deri was quoted as yelling.
“From our point of view it’s a crisis of trust.”
The report said Deri then threatened to only support the government from the outside if his demands are not met.
“Shas promised a right-wing government under Netanyahu and we will deliver. But if you don’t fulfill your obligations, we will give up on the portfolios and support the government from the outside,” he reportedly said.
Kan news reported that Netanyahu and the No. 2 in his Likud party, MK Yariv Levin, responded by blaming Smotrich’s demands.
Neither of the unsourced reports specified what promises Deri accused Netanyahu of backtracking on.
Deri appeared to hint at divides in the prospective government early Monday, asserting that Shas had been close to inking a coalition deal several days ago before a “setback” in the negotiations.
“It’s not my thing to threaten, but I say we have to decide how much more we can forego to form a government. We also have limits and we need to know where to place the red line,” Deri said during a faction meeting.
He also lamented that the Netanyahu-led bloc had not yet appointed a new Knesset speaker since the new parliament was sworn in on November 15.
Smotrich is believed to be holding up support for the move so long as his coalition demands are not met. According to Kan, the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party — which is also allied with Netanyahu — is similarly withholding its support for a new speaker until it reaches coalition agreements with Likud.
Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir likewise decried the lack of a new speaker and urged holdouts to join forces to appoint one.
“It’s a serious and severe mistake” to not immediately appoint a new Knesset speaker, which would help the incoming coalition set the agenda for upcoming legislative sessions,” Ben Gvir said at a faction meeting of his party.
“Terror doesn’t wait for us…anarchists are working in the field, there’s no time, we have to form a government,” he added, apparently using “anarchists” to refer to left-wing activists.
The Likud leader has until December 11 to form a government, though he can request a 14-day extension if he fails to do so in time.
Netanyahu met late Monday with Smotrich, a day after Likud said talks with Religious Zionism were progressing after several weeks of negotiations mired in mutual mud-slinging.
“There is progress,” Smotrich told reporters at the Knesset after the meeting, without elaborating. “We are much more optimistic.”
Netanyahu has so far managed to nail down controversial agreements with Smotrich’s running mates, Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit and MK Avi Maoz of the ultra-conservative, anti-LGBT Noam party. The three parties ran on a united slate in the election — orchestrated by Netanyahu to maximize the power of his bloc of supporters — and then split into three in a planned move.
Ben Gvir is slated to serve in the newly created post of national security minister overseeing police in the next government, a post that will have more expanded authorities than the current Public Security Ministry.
According to a Channel 13 news report Monday, Ben Gvir’s coalition deal with Likud includes an agreement to advance legislation that would give the Otzma Yehudit head greater authority over the police commissioner, similar to the relationship between the defense minister and the IDF chief of staff.
Rather than setting a general policy for the force, the network said the changes would allow Ben Gvir to set mission priorities and allocate manpower, though he would not be able to order investigations.
Ben Gvir’s expected elevation to national security minister has been denounced by Netanyahu’s political rivals and the Palestinian Authority, while former senior police commanders have charged his expanded portfolio could imperil Israel’s democracy.