Negotiations by the various parties set to make up the so-called change coalition advanced dramatically overnight Tuesday, leaving a disagreement over a judicial appointment panel as the sole remaining issue.
Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked is demanding she be given Labor chief Merav Michaeli’s spot on the Judicial Selection Committee and has threatened to block the formation of the new government if she does not receive the posting.
Though Labor officials have said they would not back down on the committee position, having already completed their negotiations and agreed to join the government, a compromise was nonetheless expected, with political sources telling Hebrew media outlets that the formation of the government would not be prevented by the dispute.
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid was therefore seen as seeking to announce late Wednesday morning that he had succeeded in cobbling together a government composed of right-wing, centrist, and left-wing parties within the timeframe allotted to him by the president.
In overnight talks, Yesh Atid finalized its coalition deal with Blue and White, reaching agreements “on the outlines of the government and core issues relating to the strengthening of democracy and Israeli society,” the two parties said in a joint statement Wednesday morning.
That leaves Yamina, New Hope and the Islamist Ra’am as the only parties yet to finalize agreements with Yesh Atid.
Previous negotiations between Yesh Atid and Labor had concluded that Michaeli, who is set to be transportation minister, would be the ministerial representative on the committee. Shaked, a former justice minister who has been promised the position of interior minister in the Lapid government, attended some of the overnight talks, where she reportedly dug in her heels on receiving the post.
Sources involved in the negotiations expressed optimism that a solution had been found in the shape of a pact that would see Michaeli take the position, while the coalition, despite having a majority of centrist and left-wing members, would vote in a lawmaker from one of the right-wing parties to also sit on the committee, according to Channel 13 news. If that doesn’t happen, Michaeli would agree to vacate her post, the report said.
The committee is chaired by the justice minister — set to be New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar in the new government. Other members are another cabinet minister, two MKs selected by the Knesset, two members of the Israel Bar Association, the chief justice, and two other Supreme Court judges.
Representatives from coalition partners Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu have tried to resolve the issue by suggesting Shaked instead be appointed Israel’s ambassador to Washington — a proposal she refused outright, the Walla news website reported Tuesday.
While he has until midnight Wednesday, Lapid is reportedly hoping to solve the issue and announce that he has an agreement for a government by 11 a.m.
Lapid wants to squeeze in his announcement that he can form a government before the end of the day’s Knesset session, which would force Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin to set a vote of confidence for the emerging coalition by next Wednesday. If Lapid’s announcement comes too late in the day, after the session has closed, Levin would be able to set a vote for the following Monday, Channel 12 News reported.
The maneuvering comes as lawmakers were set to vote on who will become Israel’s next president. They have a choice of the frontrunner, current Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog, or Israel Prize-winning educator Miriam Peretz.
Should Lapid fail to form a government before his mandate expires on midnight Wednesday, the task goes to the Knesset for 21 days. If no lawmaker is able to secure a ruling majority by the end of that period, the Knesset will disperse and a fifth round of elections since April 2019 will be called.
The Yesh Atid chair, while tasked by President Reuven Rivlin with forming a government, has agreed to a rotating premiership with Yamina head Naftali Bennett, who would serve first as prime minister. If confirmed, the new coalition would remove Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office after 12 years of consecutive rule.
Aside from the judicial committee there was said to be another sticking point in negotiations centered on the future of the justice system.
New Hope chair Gideon Sa’ar, the prospective justice minister, has clashed with some of his potential coalition partners over a plan to reform the position of the attorney general. The attorney general is both the top legal adviser to the government and the head of the state prosecution, and Sa’ar wants to split the roles.
According to reports, while several others issues linked to the distribution of portfolios to its lawmakers have been resolved, Sa’ar’s proposal was keeping New Hope from signing an agreement.
Disagreements also reportedly remain with the Arab Ra’am party, whose support will almost certainly be needed for the coalition to be sworn in.
On Tuesday, Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas said the Islamist party would be part of the coalition and expressed optimism a deal would be finalized, but stressed that nothing was over until the final agreements were signed.
According to Hebrew media reports Wednesday, there was still no clear picture on whether the party would be in the coalition or would give outside support.
According to the Kan public broadcaster reporting Tuesday, the disagreements pertaining to Ra’am center on Abbas’s demand for the Interior Ministry to cede extensive authorities to local Arab Israeli municipal councils, a demand that Shaked, who is set to be interior minister, opposes.
Channel 13 reported that agreement had been reached on Ra’am’s demand for freezing an urban planning law that is seen as unfairly targeting the Arab Israeli community and for the government’s key principles to not including any language relating the LGBTQ community.
Under the emerging rotation deal between Yamina and Yesh Atid, Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years before handing the reins to Lapid. If confirmed, it will be a precarious coalition with 61 of the 120 Knesset lawmakers backing it — and each of their votes potentially wielding power that could lead to its collapse.