ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 144

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Ben Gvir to get position with potential legislative veto, in agreement with Likud

Otzma Yehudit and Netanyahu’s party agree on framework for yet-to-be-inked coalition deal, including expanded security powers

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Otzma Yehudit party chief Itamar Ben Gvir (L) speaks with his chief of staff Chanamel Dorfman during a Knesset special committee to discuss his proposed Police Ordinance changes, December 18, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Otzma Yehudit party chief Itamar Ben Gvir (L) speaks with his chief of staff Chanamel Dorfman during a Knesset special committee to discuss his proposed Police Ordinance changes, December 18, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The far-right Otzma Yehudit party said Thursday morning that it had reached an agreement with incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party on the key content to be featured in their yet-to-be-signed coalition deal, hours after Netanyahu formally notified President Isaac Herzog that he had succeeded in cobbling together what will be Israel’s most hardline government yet.

According to an Otzma Yehudit statement, the parties agreed to hand party leader Itamar Ben Gvir the deputy chair position on the ministerial panel that determines the government’s position on legislation, a role Ben Gvir has demanded in hopes of using it as a vehicle for veto power over bills he wants to quash.

In addition, the Otzma Yehudit readout said that an agreement was reached on principles and legislation to be advanced on supporting security forces, enhancing governance, developing underserved Israeli towns, promoting “Jewish identity” and reforming the judicial system. The party did not specify which points were principles and which would be converted into bills.

A spokesman for the party confirmed that the content is a “final” version but the deal has yet to be inked and executed. Likud has not commented on the agreement and did not immediately answer a request for clarification.

Addressing the deal, Ben Gvir said that “we did everything to establish a fully right-wing government that would return governance and pride to the people of Israel and support the soldiers and police in their important struggle.”

Despite only holding six seats in Netanyahu’s 64-strong coalition, Ben Gvir is pressing hard to get a legislative veto on the powerful Ministerial Committee for Legislation. The committee is a government panel that decides the coalition’s voting position on bills and can make or break legislation.

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu informs President Isaac Herzog that he has managed to form a government, in a phone call shortly before a midnight deadline, December 21, 2022 (Likud spokesperson)

Unsourced Hebrew media reports on Wednesday said that one possibility is that Ben Gvir will be allowed to use a limited number of vetoes. This reported development has faced harsh criticism, even from senior lawmakers within Likud.

Likud MK David Bitan, at times a Netanyahu critic, told Army Radio Thursday that the legislative veto is one of a string of concessions that Netanyahu has made during negotiations that were “not called for.”

In addition to the potential Ben Gvir veto, Bitan said that the number of plum ministerial positions and committee appointments doled out to coalition partners was “not okay.”

The deputy chair position and veto that Ben Gvir is seeking on the government’s legislative position panel — which is slated to be chaired by Netanyahu himself — come in addition to Ben Gvir’s expected appointment to head the National Security Ministry. He has been promised expanded powers over the police, as well as taking over control from the IDF for the West Bank Border Police unit.

Legislation that will make the police commissioner subordinate to Ben Gvir is currently in committee debate in preparation for its final Knesset votes, wchi are expected next week.

Despite never serving in the military and carrying convictions for supporting a Jewish terror group and racial incitement, Ben Gvir has positioned himself as a strong supporter of the security services. Amid a lingering terror wave and complaints of under-policing, his message found support with voters frustrated by a widespread lack of personal safety in many areas of the country.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir, left, and Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai attend a special committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on December 14, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Among his signature promises to voters, Ben Gvir has promised to slacken open fire rules and to expand immunity for security services.

Hours after Netanyahu met his deadline to declare he had cobbled together a government, only Otzma Yehudit and fellow far-right party Religious Zionism have reached full terms with Likud.

All other parties have in the past weeks signed annexes or letters stipulating the granting of jobs and some policy points.

Ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism (UTJ) has the most unresolved issues with Likud, as the two factions work to close matters related to the delicate balance between religion and state, as well as educational funding and benefits for the Haredi sector.

While UTJ continues to press legislation that will exempt full-time yeshiva students from Israel’s compulsory military service, some Hebrew outlets reported Thursday that UTJ leader Yitzhak Goldknopf, now holding national office for the first time, will get a place on the influential security cabinet, which is in charge of crucial policy decisions on security matters.

If so, it would be the first time that a UTJ minister received the sensitive appointment.

Goldknopf is slated to be housing minister, and in recent days his management of real estate holdings has been called into question. Earlier this month, he said he was not aware of Israel’s housing crisis, an ongoing issue driven by short supply and soaring home prices.

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