Negotiators from the Likud and Shas parties reached an agreement overnight Wednesday-Thursday on the cabinet posts that the latter ultra-Orthodox faction will receive in the next government, completing the last of such deals with prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition partners as he aims to take office in the coming days.
Like the deals Likud has signed with its Orthodox partners United Torah Judaism, Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit and Noam, the agreement with Shas was only an interim deal and all of the parties are still negotiating terms of their final coalition agreements so the next government can be sworn in. But having finished divvying out cabinet posts to his five partner parties, Netanyahu can now focus on handing out the remainder of portfolios to lawmakers from his own party, which with 32 MKs, is the largest in the Knesset.
In the agreement with Shas, though, Likud agreed to name the former longtime party’s chairman Aryeh Deri the next interior minister and health minister. After roughly two years, Deri will replace Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich as finance minister. The Shas chairman will also be named deputy prime minister. It will likely be up to Deri — and possibly Netanyahu — to determine which members of his party will receive the various government postings in the coming days.
Before he can return to the cabinet, however, the Knesset will have to pass legislation allowing lawmakers handed jail sentences from becoming ministers. Deri was handed a suspended sentence after being convicted of tax offenses earlier this year — his second conviction — and the existing law does not differentiate between a suspended sentence and time served. Shas and parties in Israel’s likely next government have pushed for passing legislation off the bat that would allow the Knesset to override Supreme Court decisions, including in order to allow Deri to return to a government office.
In addition to the positions for Deri, Likud agreed to hand Shas control over the Religious Services and Welfare Ministries, and two members of the 11-MK party will also be named deputy ministers in the Education and Interior Ministries.
Netanyahu and Deri in a joint statement called the latest deal another critical step toward the formation of a right-wing government.
The Shas agreement leaves around one dozen portfolios left for Netanyahu to offer his fellow Likud lawmakers, including foreign affairs, defense, justice, education, transportation, economy, culture, and Knesset speaker. The prime minister-designate began meetings on the matter on Wednesday.
Unsourced Hebrew media reports have speculated that Netanyahu will name Amir Ohana foreign minister, Yoav Gallant defense minister, Miri Regev education minister, Eli Cohen transportation minister, Israel Katz economy minister, Miki Zohar culture minister and Dudi Amsalem Knesset speaker, though there are often swaps in the final days and even hours of such negotiations.
The deal with Shas came a day after a similar agreement with UTJ which handed the second ultra-Orthodox party control of the Construction and Housing Ministry, which will be led by faction chief Yitzchak Goldknopf, and the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee, which will be handed to MK Moshe Gafni.
UTJ will also control the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry, receive several deputy minister positions and control a handful of other Knesset committees.
Last week, Likud agreed to name Bezalel Smotrich finance minister for the first half of the government’s intended four-plus years in office. The far-right party will also receive control over the immigration and absorption committee, which will be headed by Ofir Sofer; and a new national missions ministry, which will be headed by Orit Strok. Smotrich will also receive a ministerial posting in the Defense Ministry tasked with authority over the Civil Administration and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, which are in charge of various West Bank policies such as settlement building, outpost legalization, work and building permits for Palestinians and home demolitions.
Likud’s deal with the Otzma Yehudit party saw Netanyahu name the party’s far-right chairman Itamar Ben Gvir national security minister with an expanded portfolio that covers the national police force and the Border Police’s West Bank division. Yitzhak Wasserlauf will head the Negev and Galilee Development Ministry, Amichai Eliyahu will be named the minister of heritage and Almog Cohen will serve as deputy economy minister.
Likud’s deal with the homophobic Noam party will see chairman Avi Maoz serve as deputy minister and head of a new “national Jewish identity” government agency within the Prime Minister’s Office. According to the agreement, the Education Ministry unit responsible for external teaching and partnerships will also be placed under Maoz’s control, giving him authority over non-official bodies enlisted to teach or lecture at schools.
Likud was reportedly already gearing up Wednesday for a legislative blitz aimed at passing several pieces of legislation needed to fulfill existing coalition commitments.
According to Channel 12, committees were being set up to shepherd through laws that will enable Deri to serve as a minister despite his recent conviction on tax charges; allow Smotrich to gain control of civil bodies with sweeping powers over the West Bank; and move key responsibilities from the police to the newly rebranded National Security Ministry set to come under the aegis of Ben Gvir.
Netanyahu is reportedly hoping to have all the measures passed by the end of next week in order to have all ministers sworn in together, but members of the outgoing coalition have vowed to fight the moves and thwart attempts to rush them through the Knesset.