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Likud, right-wing allies cite bombings to inject new urgency into coalition talks

Likud says the ‘public expects’ differences to be set aside to quickly form government and fight terror, Smotrich urges Netanyahu to convene party heads

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

Otzma Yehudit MK Itamar Ben Gvir at the scene of an explosion in Jerusalem, November 23, 2022. (Courtesy Otzma Yehudit)
Otzma Yehudit MK Itamar Ben Gvir at the scene of an explosion in Jerusalem, November 23, 2022. (Courtesy Otzma Yehudit)

The Likud party and the heads of the far-right Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit parties all called for talks toward a new government to be wrapped up swiftly to give them the power to fight terror, following a deadly twin bombing in Jerusalem Wednesday morning.

Coalition negotiations between the parties along with ultra-Orthodox factions Shas and United Torah Judaism have dragged on amid squabbling over appointments and legislative priorities, but the terror attack, which left a teen boy dead and injured over 20 others, injected new urgency into the effort to form a new right wing-religious government led by Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu.

“In this sensitive security period it is time to put personal desires aside, unite and form a national government that will restore security to Israel,” Likud said in a statement distributed to journalists, which it attributed to “senior Likud sources.”

“This is what the public rightly expects from us,” the statement read.

Smotrich, who has sparred with Likud over a number of security-related positions, tweeted that “we must establish a national government immediately” in response to “murderous Arab terror knocking on our door.”

“I call on prime minister-designate Netanyahu to convene the leaders of the factions in order to reach agreements and form a right-wing government that will make a real change and restore security to the citizens of Israel,” the Twitter statement continued.

Speaking from the scene of one of the two blasts on Wednesday morning, Otzma Yehudit head Itamar Ben Gvir told reporters that “we have to form a government as soon as possible; terror doesn’t wait.”

The comment came a day after Ben Gvir said he would not join a Netanyahu-led government, potentially blocking its formation, unless his demand for tools to assist Israel’s peripheral communities, especially in the Negev and Galilee, were met.

Both Likud and the joint slate of Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit campaigned heavily on security-related issues in the run-up to this month’s election, accusing Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s outgoing government of failing to fight terror effectively.

Wednesday’s coordinated attacks on bus stations near the western entrance to the city and in the Ramot neighborhood left 16-year-old Aryeh Schupak dead and another 22 injured. Schupak, who immigrated to Israel from Canada with his family, had been waiting for a bus to his yeshiva when the blasts went off.

Hours earlier, West Bank gunmen snatched the remains of Israeli teenager Tiran Fero from the Jenin hospital where he had been taken after being severely injured in a car crash and are holding his body for ransom.

Several right-wing and far-right MKs also called on politicians to put disputes aside and speedily form a government.

Likud MK Miki Zohar called the fact that politicians were still squabbling over ministerial appointments “absurd” given the security situation.

Likud has pushed to rapidly form a government after the election delivered the bloc it leads a 64-seat majority in the 120-lawmaker Knesset, but has hit roadblocks from its partners’ spiraling and sometimes competing demands.

“It still sounds very, very absurd to me that our country is on fire, there is unrest in the streets, and instead of calming down the situation and returning peace to the streets we are still busy conducting negotiations on this or that portfolio or for one role or another,” Zohar told Ynet news.

Religious Zionist party leader Bezalel Smotrich arrives for coalition talks at a hotel in Jerusalem on November 9, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Former IDF general Zvika Fogel, a new MK from far-right Otzma Yehudit, told Army Radio that Israel has lost its deterrent capability against Palestinian terrorism and said Likud should accelerate coalition talks, finalize terms with partners such as his party, and get the new government into office so that it can tackle terror more effectively.

“If a single Jewish mother is crying, or 1,000 Palestinian mothers, better that 1,000 Palestinian mothers cry,” said Fogel, a former head of the IDF southern command.

But fresh accusations flew on Tuesday evening and Wednesday regarding divisions between Smotrich and Netanyahu that have created another impasse in talks.

Smotrich has reportedly accepted that Likud will not hand him the Defense Ministry, but has pushed to excise the Civil Administration from the ministry’s purview and transfer it to his control.

The Defense Ministry body manages Area C in the West Bank, where all Israeli settlers and several thousand Palestinians live under Israeli civilian and military control. Smotrich has long pushed for power over the Civil Administration, which would allow him to direct resources toward clamping down on illegal Palestinian building. Palestinians argue that the illegal building is necessitated by the fact that Israel almost never grants them building permits.

Likud responded that Smotrich was posturing, indicating that its reported opposition to Smotrich’s demand was “fake.”

“There is no disagreement with Smotrich regarding the transfer of the powers of the Civil Administration powers,” read a statement attributed to a “Likud source,” without specifying whether Smotrich will get the Civil Administration or has backed down from the request.

Presumed incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem to visit those injured in a deadly bombing attack, November 23, 2022. (Likud/courtesy)

Divisions over the Civil Administration are the latest in a string of blow-ups between Likud and its partners to the right, as it tries to form Israel’s 37th government.

They follow a seeming breakthrough over how to handle senior ministry posts debated between Smotrich, Likud, and Shas leader Aryeh Deri.

Smotrich had pushed for the Defense Ministry, which Netanyahu denied him in part because of strong objections from the United States. In exchange, Netanyahu pushed Deri to split the Finance Ministry with Smotrich, who is proposed to go first in a rotation to hold the post.

Smotrich is said to claim that transferring departments that have to do with West Bank settlements from the Defense Ministry to a ministerial office under Religious Zionism’s control was part of the deal, which Likud denies.

Likud’s point man on coalition negotiations, MK Yariv Levin, reportedly said in private conversations that Smotrich’s far-reaching demands would constitute establishing “a government within a government,” citing the requests to peel off various departments from ministries and transfer them to the Religious Zionism’s control.

Levin reportedly classified Smotrich’s demands as “delusional.”

Contacted by The Times of Israel, Levin’s office did deny that the remarks were made, but indicated that they weren’t intended as an attack on Smotrich.

In a statement released in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Likud said that in addition to the Finance Ministry rotational agreement, it was agreed that Smotrich “would receive the Settlement Ministry and the Aliyah and Absorption Ministry.”

“This is a fair summary by all accounts, and Likud stands behind it,” the statement continued, charging that “Likud did not agree to comply with new demands placed by Smotrich after the agreement was reached to remove a long list of government bodies from the other government ministries and transfer them to the Finance Ministry.”

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