Bennett: These deals mark end of 2.5-year political crisis

Lapid finalizes coalition deals with all parties in incoming ‘change government’

Yamina is the last faction to formally announce it has signed an agreement with Yesh Atid before Friday afternoon deadline, ahead of Sunday’s swearing-in vote

A photo montage shows the leaders of the eight parties in the so-called 'change government': Clockwise from top left: Merav Michaeli (Labor), Naftali Bennett (Yamina), Benny Gantz (Blue and White), Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu), Gideon Sa'ar (New Hope), Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), Mansour Abbas (Ra'am) and Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz). (All photos: Flash90)
A photo montage shows the leaders of the eight parties in the so-called 'change government': Clockwise from top left: Merav Michaeli (Labor), Naftali Bennett (Yamina), Benny Gantz (Blue and White), Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu), Gideon Sa'ar (New Hope), Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), Mansour Abbas (Ra'am) and Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz). (All photos: Flash90)

Coalition agreements between the eight parties that have joined forces to replace the outgoing coalition headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were completed and signed Friday, paving the way for the 61-strong coalition to be sworn in on Sunday, ending Netanyahu’s 12-year term in office.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid inked coalition agreements with the Ra’am and Yisrael Beytenu parties on Friday morning. Hours later, Yesh Atid signed and released agreements with the Labor, Blue and White, New Hope and Yamina parties, with Yamina the last to formally announce a deal had been finalized.

The signing of the agreements came after Yesh Atid finalized a coalition deal with Meretz the day before. Meretz’s central committee ratified the agreement on Friday.

Under Israeli law, coalition agreements must be submitted to the Knesset and made public at least 24 hours before the swearing-in vote. However, with the vote scheduled for a Knesset session that begins at 4 p.m. on Sunday — and with Saturday, the Jewish day of rest, not counting — the parties in the emerging coalition had until Friday afternoon to finalize and submit the agreements.

A joint statement from Yesh Atid and Yamina said all the agreements had been submitted to the Knesset Secretariat.

“The agreements, along with the new government’s core principles, are open to the public and can be reviewed,” the statement said.

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, left, and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid in the Knesset, June 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Under the terms of the new coalition, Yamina’s Naftali 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.

“The signing of these agreements brings to an end two and a half years of political crisis. We are faced with great challenges, and all the citizens of Israel are looking to us with hope,” Bennett was quoted saying in the statement. “The government will work for all the Israeli public — religious, secular, ultra-Orthodox, Arab — without exception, as one.”

Lapid vowed the government would prioritize what’s best for the country.

“That’s what this unity government has been formed to do. All the partners in this government are committed, first and foremost, to the people of Israel,” he said in the statement.

(L-R) Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Yamina chair Naftali Bennett, New Hope chair Gideon Sa’ar, Blue and White head Benny Gantz, Ra’am chair Mansour Abbas, Labor head Merav Michaeli and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz at a meeting of the heads of the would-be-coalition in Tel Aviv, June 6, 2021. (Ra’anan Cohen)

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).

The coalition represents an unprecedentedly diverse mix of parties, from right (Yamina, New Hope and Yisrael Beytenu) to center (Yesh Atid and Blue and White), to left (Labor and Meretz), in addition to the conservative Islamic Party Ra’am. Their leaders, which unified in opposition to Netanyahu’s continued rule, have vowed to try to work via consensus to heal rifts in Israeli society without crossing their own ideological red lines.

Netanyahu has been trying to woo defectors from the ranks of some of the parties in recent days, without success. As things stand, the Bennett-Lapid coalition is expected to be approved in the Knesset by a wafer-thin 61-59 votes.

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 Finance Ministry 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 deal between Ra’am and Yesh Atid includes a deputy ministerial post for Ra’am in the Prime Minister’s Office, chairmanship of the Knesset Interior Committee, a deputy Knesset speaker and chairmanship of the Arab Affairs Committee.

That deal also includes agreements to work to pass a five-year spending plan totaling NIS 30 billion through 2026 to: “reduce gaps in Arab, Druze, Circassian and Bedouin society”; approve a five-year crime-fighting plan worth NIS 2.5 billion; adopt a NIS 20 billion plan for transportation infrastructure in Arab communities; extend a freeze of the Kaminitz Law on building restrictions until the end of 2024; and formally recognize three Bedouin communities in the south within 45 days of the government’s swearing-in.

In the agreement with Yisrael Beytenu, the parties agreed the government will advance policies that Liberman’s right-wing secularist party campaigned on, such as the teaching of core curriculum subjects in all schools and public transport on the Sabbath.

Along with the Finance Ministry, Yisrael Beteynu will also receive the Agriculture Ministry and the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee, The party also can appoint another minister in the Treasury and one of its lawmakers will be a deputy Knesset speaker.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks during a Knesset faction meeting on May 31, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The coalition agreement with Labor guarantees spots for the center-left party’s lawmakers on numerous governmental and parliamentary committees, including the chairmanship of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee during the government’s first two years when Bennett is prime minister. After Lapid takes over the premiership, a Yesh Atid Knesset member will chair the committee while Michaeli will get a spot on the Judicial Appointments Committee.

The deal between Yesh Atid and Labor also says no additional factions can join the coalition without the latter’s sign-off.

With Blue and White, Yesh Atid agreed to form a state commission of inquiry to probe the deadly crush during Lag B’Omer celebrations at Mount Meron in northern Israel this year, in which 45 people were killed.

The deal with New Hope included an agreement to advance legislation that would limit any prime minister to eight years in office, potentially curtailing Netanyahu’s political career.

Gideon Sa’ar, head of the New Hope party, speaks at a conference in Jerusalem on March 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The coalition’s guiding principles that all parties signed onto include a commitment to maintain the status quo regarding religion and state affairs. Yamina will be able to veto any bill concerning matters of religion and state, but also said in a statement that it would work to promote competition in the field of kosher supervision.

The parties agreed that the coalition will work to pass a Defense Ministry version of legislation formalizing exemptions to mandatory military service for many ultra-Orthodox seminary students. The emerging coalition said it also plans to examine the possibility of national civil service as an alternative to military service for certain demographic groups that generally don’t serve in the military — Haredi Jews and Arab Israelis.

The incoming government will also keep all civil control and enforcement in Area C of the West Bank under the Defense Ministry, according to the coalition agreements. The coalition principles state that Gantz will be allocated certain resources to help better enforce building regulations in Area C, the roughly 60 percent of the West Bank that is under Israeli military and civilian control.

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, 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.

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