Likud demands political control over independent ministry posts, seeking major shift

In a sweeping release of policy priorities in coalition negotiations, Likud says it will also push to legalize settlements, reform judiciary and join US Visa Waiver Program

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in the Knesset on November 21, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in the Knesset on November 21, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Releasing a partial but sweeping list of policy points it plans to push in the next government, the Likud party reaffirmed its determination to reform the judicial system and give politicians more power, as well as to support Jewish settlement in the West Bank and advance at least two key measures it torpedoed in the last Knesset session.

The list of coalition demands shed light on the party’s likely legislative agenda as it pushed ahead with attempts to finalize a government it is expecting to form with far-right and ultra-Orthodox allies. Though the parties generally share the same ideological outlook, they have wrangled over ministry appointments and pushed for commitments on various budgetary or regulatory demands.

In a written list of some of its own demands released on Tuesday night, Likud wrote it plans to convert certain key bureaucratic posts to “positions of trust,” meaning they will be able to be appointed or removed at will by politicians. According to Channel 12 news, the far-reaching move will include the ministry’s legal advisers and key civil servants whose opinions bind ministry management, and who are currently subordinate to the attorney general.

The proposal is part of a wider plan by Netanyahu’s nascent government to impose political control in areas heretofore held by the judiciary, which critics say will remove an essential check on executive power.

Government ministry legal advisers are currently professional civil servants appointed by a tender process. While they administratively fall under the ministries they advise, they are professionally subordinate only to the attorney general, who also needs to consent to their removal. This has created an important judicial check on political control of key organs of state.

At a Justice Ministry conference earlier this month, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara defended the independence of her office, which currently must sign off on the removal of any ministry legal advisers.

“The definition of our duties and the way they are performed do not depend on the identity of those in the political echelon or the identity of the heads of the judicial system at the time,” she said.

Unnamed judicial sources quoted by Ynet news Tuesday warned the moves would “destroy… public trust in the system of government.”

The controversial effort to shift power away from unelected civil servants into the hands of the government also includes plans to pass an override clause enabling the Knesset to reenact laws struck down by the Supreme Court, and previously announced plans to reform judicial appointments, giving politicians greater say over new judges.

In an apparent nod to that, Likud’s demand sheet said it would “strengthen the status of the Knesset and restore the proper balance between authorities, including through the enactment of the Basic Law: The Legislation.”

Adding to political control over state bodies, Likud also published that it would end the practice of appointing directors to state companies from a pre-vetted group, but rather consider outside candidates who “meet the necessary standards.”

The move would constitute a “revolution in the world of appointments,” Channel 12 news reported.

Regarding settlements, Likud stands behind connecting illegal West Bank outposts to utilities, as well as ensuring that the flashpoint West Bank Homesh yeshiva and Evyatar outpost continue to remain active, along with its general promise to “strengthen Jewish settlement in all parts of the Land of Israel.”

It also said it would fight illegal construction — presumably Palestinian — in the Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank.

The party also wrote that it would push legislation needed to advance Israel through the United States’ Visa Waiver Program, a step that Likud held up after the government collapsed this summer, despite personal intervention from US envoy Tom Nides.

In addition, Likud said it would back the “metro plan,” which is designed to provide oversight and funding for a new subway system being built in central Israel; half of the network has already been approved.

Earlier this year, the party blocked the plan from moving forward, after using it as a bargaining chip in talks over the timing of this month’s election.

An Israeli settler adds the finishing touches to a large Star of David before evacuating the newly-established wildcat outpost of Evyatar in the West Bank, on July 2, 2021. (Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

The statement marks the first time Likud has detailed its policy points, nine days after Netanyahu was tapped as prime minister-designate by President Isaac Herzog following the vote, which saw Likud, far-right Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit, Noam, and ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism win enough seats to comfortably cruise into power.

Among its many policy points are additional positions on expanding peace agreements in the Arab world, benefits to IDF soldiers, combating the high cost of living, improving public transportation, helping farmers, expanding support for immigrants, fighting crime in Arab society, strengthening the core curriculum in non-Haredi schools, enacting a climate law, and increasing the housing stock.

Netanyahu presided over the signing of the historic Abraham Accords agreements, and his party said it wants to “deepen cooperation” with partner countries the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as “advance additional peace agreements to end the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Regarding cost of living, the party reaffirmed policy positions Netanyahu publicized in August that it would push for free education for all children under the age of three and for temporarily freezing utility, fuel and municipal tax rates. It also said it would push to adopt European import standards for products, a point also pushed by Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman to reduce anti-competitive and expensive regulatory hurdles.

Likud also said it would fight the housing shortage by expediting building permits, shortening land sale procedures, and helping to release about 300,000 planned housing units by subsidizing their necessary infrastructure.

Turning an eye to soldiers serving their compulsory service, Likud said it would raise salaries by 20%, increase combat soldier salaries to the minimum wage for the last six months of their service, and push for full government funding of the “MeMadim LeLimudim,” or “From Uniforms to Studies,” scholarship program.

Soldiers of the 7th Armored Corps Brigade during training in central Golan Heights, August 29, 2022. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

In May, the party almost scuttled the program as part of its effort to embarrass the embattled coalition, walking its position back by saying it wanted to push for full funding but ultimately compromising on increasing the scholarship from 67% to 75% to pass the law.

Likud’s education proposals include strengthening the core curriculum of math, English, and science, but only in the non-Haredi sectors, in line with a pre-election promise to Haredi politicians to fully fund their school systems without needing to abide by Education Ministry curricular guidelines.

It would also “deepen curriculum” teaching Zionism and “the heritage of all communities in Israel.”

The party also said it would roll back recent reforms in the high school matriculation exam system and push for “affirmative action” to support IDF veterans who want spots to study medicine, law, computer science, accounting, or engineering.

Supporting a cause that receives across-the-board support but has yet to be meaningfully addressed, Likud said it would allocate “resources and enforcement tools” to fight crime in Arab society.

In addition to “continued investment in infrastructure,” the party also said it would create a five-year plan for education and employment in the Arab community.

Amid cries from its far-right and religious coalition partners to not recognize Reform conversion, Likud said it would expand the state conversion system — which is Orthodox — and make it more “accessible to the public interested in conversion.”

While silent on the issue of whether it would push to let Reform conversions stand for those wishing to immigrate to Israel as Jews, the party said that it would both increase budgets to help new immigrants and to reform vocational licensing, such that new immigrants can continue to work in professions they practiced abroad.

Wading into the fiery agricultural tariff debate, Likud said it would push to lower import tariffs, but simultaneously subsidize farmers.

Likud also said it would fund “protection” for farmers who “guard state land,” presumably in the Negev where Jewish farmers routinely clash with Bedouin.

Without elaborating upon details, Likud also said it would push a climate bill that “includes setting a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

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