The first regular cabinet meeting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government began at 11 a.m. Sunday at the Knesset, amid reported delays in the formation of new ministries and offices.
Because of the size of the cabinet and social distancing regulations, the cabinet meeting was held at the Knesset’s Chagall Hall, usually reserved for large ceremonies, rather than the normal government meeting room.
But according to Channel 12, plans to discuss the founding of new ministries and a new office for Benny Gantz as alternate prime minister were removed from the agenda at the last minute due to budgeting issues and other disagreements.
At the outset of the meeting, Netanyahu said that the new unity government “represents all of the people of Israel,” before warning Tehran against threatening Israel with destruction, saying the Iranians “will put themselves in a great danger.”
The warning came after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Israel’s establishment was an unequaled “crime against humanity,” repeated his characterization of the Jewish state as “a cancerous tumor” and said it was the creation of “Westerners and Jewish corporation owners.”
Netanyahu also said the new government will “continue to confront the danger of the coronavirus,” but added that “the task we are currently dealing with is the economic task.
“First and foremost, we want to work together to get people back to work. I discussed this with the finance minister several times last week,” he said. “I instructed him to increase the budget of the economic plan to NIS 100 billion.”
The budget was previously set at NIS 80 billion ($22.6 billion)
Without expanding, Netanyahu promised to “introduce programs that will bring jobs.”
Gantz also addressed the meeting and, referring to Jerusalem Day celebrated last week, said the government must work toward healing fissures in Israeli society.
“There is nothing like Jerusalem to symbolize the beating heart of the State. We need to take this model of Jerusalem, and to realize that sometimes we have to yield to achieve reconciliation and unity in Israeli society,” Gantz said. “We need to work to expand unity to and increase reconciliation.”
The meeting was held hours before Netanyahu is set to make history by becoming Israel’s first sitting prime minister on trial when he is scheduled to appear at the Jerusalem District Court for a plea hearing at which he will hear the charges read out against him: bribery, fraud and breach of trust in one case, and fraud and breach of trust in two others.
Ahead of the trial’s opening Netanyahu and his allies have assailed the trial as an attempted coup by the left, the media, police and the justice system. No evidence has been provided for this claim.
Neither Netanyahu nor Gantz made any comment about the trial at the cabinet meeting.
The meeting comes less than a week after the new government — with a record-breaking 34 ministers — was sworn in, ending over a year of political deadlock and sealing a coalition agreement between Netanyahu and his chief rival Gantz of the Blue and White Party.
Gantz had sworn not to join a government under Netanyahu as long as he was facing legal trouble, but later pulled an about-face, agreeing to a power-sharing deal that will see him take power in 18 months.
Among the first orders of business for the new government was to be a vote to set up the office of alternate prime minister, a new position created for Gantz — who is also defense minister — and which will later be assumed by Netanyahu if and when the rotation agreement goes ahead.
However according to Channel 12, there is still no budget for the new offices and ministries and there are still disagreements over their size.
The government has been widely criticized for its bloated size — nearly half of the MKs in the coalition are ministers — and for the fact that ministries needed to be created in order to hand out enough ministerial posts, many of which are seen as political favors.
Two of those ministries, the Water Resources Ministry and Settlements Ministry, were to be voted on as well Sunday, before that vote was removed from the agenda.
Ministers will also vote on the appointments of seven deputy ministers. All seven deputies will come from Likud and the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, which form the right-religious flank of the government. While the coalition deal allows Blue and White and parties from its left-center camp to also appoint deputy ministers, it has said it will not do so.
The meeting will also include votes on coronavirus-related matters and having schoolchildren tour Jerusalem more, according to a publicly released agenda.