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Judicial reforms, recognition of Bedouin villages: Details from coalition deals

Agreements between 8 parties represent a tapestry of policy arrangements aimed at pleasing the diverse and sometimes conflicting ideologies within the would-be-government

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

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett arrives to speak from the Knesset on May 30, 2021, in an address at which he said he was working to firm a unity government with Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid. (Yonatan Sindel/Pool via AP)
Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett arrives to speak from the Knesset on May 30, 2021, in an address at which he said he was working to firm a unity government with Yesh Atid's Yair Lapid. (Yonatan Sindel/Pool via AP)

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid on Wednesday informed President Reuven Rivlin that he had managed to form a government in which he and Yamina chief Naftali Bennett will switch off as prime minister, leading a coalition of center, left, and right-wing parties, as well as the Islamist Ra’am party.

Before swearing in the new government, Lapid must, by law, present the public with the coalition agreements signed between the different parties in his assorted coalition. He has not done so yet, and the deals have not yet been finalized, but most issues have been agreed upon.

The general statements announcing the agreements, claims from various lawmakers of achievements in the negotiations and multiple reports on the emerging deals paint a picture of a tapestry of policy arrangements aimed at pleasing the diverse and sometimes conflicting ideologies within the coalition.

Who got what?

Under the terms of the new coalition, Bennett is to serve as prime minister until August 2023, when Lapid will take over from him until the end of the Knesset term in November 2025.

Yamina chief Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid are seen on Wednesday evening, as they inform President Reuven Rivlin they have succeeded in forming a government, June 2, 2021. (Courtesy)

The intended Lapid-Bennett government is backed by eight of the 13 parties that won seats in the March 23 election, for an expected total of 61 votes in the 120-member Knesset: Yesh Atid (17 seats), Blue and White (8), Yisrael Beytenu (7), Labor (7), Yamina (6 of its 7 MKs), New Hope (6), Meretz (6), and Ra’am (4).

In terms of top ministerial positions, under the emerging coalition agreements, Lapid will serve as foreign minister in the first two years of the government, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz will remain defense minister, and the treasury will be held by Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman. New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar will be justice minister, while Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked will be interior minister. Labor’s Merav Michaeli received the transportation portfolio and her fellow party member Omer Barlev will be public security minister. Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz will be appointed health minister, while fellow party member Tamar Zandberg will be environmental protection minister.

Yesh Atid will start with four ministerial positions, and Yamina will get three. New Hope and Blue and White will have four ministries each, while Yisrael Beytenu, Labor and Meretz will each have three.

The top-level security cabinet will reportedly include three Yamina members — Bennett, Shaked, and Matan Kahana. There will be three members of New Hope — Sa’ar and Elkin and Yoaz Hendel, along with Yisrael Beytenu’s Liberman. Yesh Atid will only have one security cabinet member: Lapid. There will also be two representatives from Labor — Michaeli and Bar-Lev; one representative from Blue and White — Gantz; and one from Meretz — Horowitz.

Party leaders in the emerging coalition: This combination of pictures created on June 2, 2021 shows (Top (L to R) Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, (bottom L to R) Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas, and Labor leader Merav Michaeli. (AFP)

Yamina and New Right

Signing on to the new government last, just minutes before Lapid spoke with Rivlin, the right-wing New Hope and Yamina parties said they had agreed with Yesh Atid on “a series of reforms and socio-economic achievements.”

The parties said they had reached agreements for the next government to split the position of attorney general, who currently serves as top legal adviser to the government as well as the head of the state prosecution; introduce reforms for criminal suspects under investigation; transfer responsibility for early childhood education to the Education Ministry, which will be controlled by New Hope; establish a university in the Galilee; approve construction of 300,000 housing units at affordable prices; lead a cannabis reform and regulate the local marijuana market; establish a system of supervision for the maintenance of the West Bank’s Area C, which is under direct Israeli control.

Head of the New Hope party Gideon Sa’ar arrives at the Maccabiah village in Ramat Gan, June 1, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Yamina also secured a key concession from the center-left during the final hours of negotiations: Shaked will serve as the coalition’s representative on the Judicial Appointments Committee for the government’s first two years, in place of Labor’s Merav Michaeli, who will take the spot for the latter two years.

Yisrael Beytenu

Liberman’s Yisrael Beyteinu, a staunch secularist party, said it had reached a series of agreements on religion and state and the government’s guidelines on the subject.

In addition, an agreement was reached on promoting a National Projects Law as “one of the growth engines planned for the Israeli economy.”

Labor

Though Labor was forced to concede to Yamina on the coal Judicial Appointments Committee, it was rewarded handsomely for doing so.

The party will chair the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee and the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee; a representative of the party will serve on the judicial panel throughout the government’s entire term (though not as coalition representative); a party member will be appointed deputy minister, with the specific portfolio not yet determined; two party members will sit on the powerful Security Cabinet.

Meretz

Highlighting the potential for disagreements in the mosaic coalition, Meretz chair Horowitz said Thursday that his progressive party’s agreement with Yesh Atid includes a commitment to advance LGBT rights, while Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas vowed to oppose any such legislation.

Speaking to Army Radio on the eve of the Jerusalem Pride Parade, Horowitz said that his party’s coalition agreement, one of the first that Lapid signed, includes “a clear commitment to advance the rights of the LGBT community in Israel.”

“It was agreed to recognize the status of unmarried couples, including partners of the same sex, as married,” said Horowitz, who is openly gay. “Those are things we insisted on and they are in our agreement.”

Head of the left wing Meretz party MK Nitzan Horowitz leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on May 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Ra’am leader told the station following Horowitz’s comments that he was not aware of any coalition commitment to advance LGBT rights. “I don’t know about that, I didn’t see it in the basic guidelines [for the coalition], nor in the agreements,” Abbas said.

Asked if he would oppose the measures that Horowitz had raised, Abbas responded: “Without a doubt. We are a party with a religious background, all of our positions on the matter are drawn from the faith itself.”

Ra’am

Abbas threw his support behind the would-be government late on Wednesday night, setting up his Islamist party to be the first Arab party in decades to be part of a ruling coalition.

The deal between Ra’am and Yesh Atid includes a deputy ministerial post for Ra’am in the Prime Minister’s Office, according to Hebrew media reports Thursday.

Ra’am’s leadership, its Shura Council, has yet to decide if the party will activate that article in the agreement and appoint such a deputy minister, and it was not yet clear what the post’s powers or areas of responsibility would be, the reports said.

Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra’am party seen after signing the coalition agreement, at the Maccabiah village in Ramat Gan on June 2, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Touting its greatest achievement in the negotiations, Ra’am said Wednesday that the so-called change bloc agreed to over NIS 53 billion ($16.3 billion) in budgets and government development plans for Arab society.

According to a statement released by the party after signing its agreement, Bennett and Lapid pledged NIS 30 billion over five years in unspecified economic development funds, as well as another NIS 2.5 million ($770,000) to fight violence and organized crime in Arab society.

Another NIS 20 million ($6 million) will be invested over the next 10 years to fix crumbling infrastructure in Arab cities and towns, Ra’am said.

Three Bedouin unrecognized villages — Abda, Khashm al-Zena, and Rakhma — are set to be legalized in a government decision, according to Ra’am.

The party said it also won the coalition’s agreement to discuss amending the controversial 2017 Kaminitz law, which targets illegal Arab construction and is widely viewed by Arabs as discriminatory. In the meantime, a decision already in place to freeze parts of the law will be extended until 2024.

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