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Elkin given new ministerial responsibility

Change bloc chiefs meet to iron out wrinkles as Likud steps up hunt for rebels

Knesset vote on new coalition set for Sunday at 4 p.m.; prospective coalition said to fear fresh US pressure on settlements could expose disputes

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Yamina chief Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid seen conversing in the plenum on June 2, 2021, hours before Lapid's mandate to form a government expires (video screenshot)
Yamina chief Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid seen conversing in the plenum on June 2, 2021, hours before Lapid's mandate to form a government expires (video screenshot)

The leaders of the “change bloc’s” Yamina, New Hope and Yesh Atid parties met Tuesday night to sort out remaining differences, five days before the new government is set to be approved and sworn in.

Naftali Bennett, Gideon Sa’ar and Yair Lapid agreed that New Hope’s Ze’ev Elkin will be appointed minister in charge of liaison between the Knesset and government. The news came after reports that Elkin had set new conditions for supporting the government — specifically the formation of a new body to oversee enforcement of alleged illegal construction by Palestinians in the West Bank’s Area C.

In a joint statement, the parties called the reports “ridiculous spin.”

The eight-party “change government” alliance, headed by Bennett and Lapid, anticipates winning a 61-59 majority in the confidence vote Sunday, after wavering Yamina MK Nir Orbach said earlier Tuesday that he would back the new coalition.

Ze’ev Elkin (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The vote on the new government is expected to begin at 4 p.m.

On Tuesday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party approved a motion to reserve three open spots on the party’s electoral slate, in a last-ditch bid to entice members of right-wing parties in the change bloc to oppose the proposed government in exchange for a guaranteed spot on the Likud roster in the next election.

Yamina MK Nir Orbach arrives for a meeting with Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett and fellow Yamina MKs, at Bennett’s home in Ra’anana, on June 4, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Yamina’s Orbach explained that his decision was difficult but necessary to break the years-long political stalemate and prevent Israel from “falling apart.”

“I chose what’s good for the country,” he said.

Netanyahu has been desperately trying to push right-wing MKs in the new coalition to defect, with intense protests being held outside the homes of several lawmakers who have also seen threats directed against them and their families.

Currently, at least four of the seven Yamina lawmakers in the Knesset are under additional protection amid threats directed at them over the party joining up with Lapid and left-wing parties. On Tuesday night, it was reported by Channel 12 news that security is also being increased for New Hope chairman Sa’ar.

The emerging government will first be headed by Bennett, who will be replaced by Lapid as prime minister in August 2023.

MK Betzalel Smotrich and right-wing demonstrators at a protest against the unity government outside the home of Yamina parliament member Ayelet Shaked in Tel Aviv on June 3, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Should the change government be confirmed by the Knesset, it would end more than 12 consecutive years of rule under Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

Amid the alarmist discourse in some right-wing circles, rising incitement on social media, angry protests outside politicians’ homes and even allegations of treason against Bennett and his allies, the Yamina party chief and prime minister-designate said on Sunday that the new government “is not a catastrophe, it’s not a disaster, [it’s] a change of government: a normal and obvious event in any democratic country.”

Bennett appealed to Netanyahu to “let go. Let the country move forward. People are allowed to vote for a government even if you do not lead it — a government that, by the way, is 10 degrees to the right of the current one.”

Meanwhile, Channel 13 news reported Tuesday night that the looming evacuation of an illegal West Bank outpost, Evyatar, could test the new government from the get-go.

Yamina leader and Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett speaks at the Knesset, June 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

The defense establishment is expected to dismantle the outpost, which was recently rebuilt, with dozens of families moving in.

The high-profile move could rattle the emerging coalition, particularly the pro-settlement parties Yamina, New Hope and Yisrael Beytenu.

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