Ben Gvir to get newly created role of national security minister in deal with Likud

Full agreement between Likud, Otzma Yehudit not yet signed; far-right party head’s portfolio to include control over West Bank Border Police; Religious Zionism talks remain stalled

Far-right Otzma Yehudit MK Itamar Ben Gvir at the scene of a terror attack near the entrance to Jerusalem, on November 23, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Far-right Otzma Yehudit MK Itamar Ben Gvir at the scene of a terror attack near the entrance to Jerusalem, on November 23, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud and Otzma Yehudit agreed early Friday on the positions the far-right party will hold in the incoming government, with Itamar Ben Gvir to serve in the newly created position of National Security Minister — an expanded public security minister role that includes oversight of the national police and Border Police in the West Bank.

The parties signed an annex to a coalition deal, though not yet the full deal itself, detailing the posts Otzma Yehudit will receive.

In addition to the National Security Ministry, Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party will also run an expanded version of the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee; the newly created Heritage Ministry; the Knesset’s Public Security Committee and the Knesset Special Committee for the Israeli Citizens’ Fund (which oversees state revenue from gas drilling) in addition to receiving the post of deputy economy minister.

The Negev and Galilee Ministry will be headed up by Otzma Yehudit No. 2 Yitzhak Wasserlauf, and Amichai Eliyahu will take on the Heritage Ministry portfolio.

The Negev and Galilee Ministry will receive an annual budget of NIS 2 billion (some $580 million) and will also be responsible for carrying out the regulation of new West Bank settlements.

MK Almog Cohen will be Deputy Economy Minister and former IDF general Zvika Fogel will chair the Public Security Committee. MK Limor Son Har-Melech will take Otzma Yehudit’s position on the gas royalties committee.

Otzma Yehudit’s Almog Cohen (L) and Yitzhak Wasserlauf at the Knesset, November 21, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The deal also includes an agreement to establish a widescale national guard, and the expansion of reserve troop mobilization in the Border Police.

Ben Gvir’s ministry will have control over the Border Police’s West Bank division, which currently falls under the Defense Ministry with some input from the Public Security Ministry.

The move means the far-right party leader will have control over Border Police troops involved in policing riots in the West Bank as well as the evacuation of outposts.

There will also be an “expanded southern law” that will permit the shooting of thieves caught stealing weapons from military bases.

Last year, the military updated its rules of engagement to allow soldiers to more easily open fire at suspected gun thieves and smugglers, in a bid to crack down on crime. It was not immediately clear what the impact of the legislative change would be.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Otzma Yehudit chief Itamar Ben Gvir arrive for the swearing-in ceremony for the new Knesset, at the parliament building in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

In a statement, Ben Gvir said the deal was “a big step toward signing a full coalition agreement and establishing a full right-wing government,” and that it would partner with earlier agreements with Likud such as the formal regulation of the flashpoint West Bank Homesh yeshiva and Evyatar outpost.

Earlier this week, two former senior police officials publicly warned that anticipated changes to the relationship between the police force and the public security minister (as the role is known now), demanded by Ben Gvir, could spell the end of Israeli democracy.

Likud Otzma Agreement by Joshua Davidovich on Scribd

The accord (in Hebrew above) with Otzma Yehudit signaled Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s slow but steady progress in his efforts toward forming a coalition following this month’s election, as he moved closer to clinching full deals with Otzma Yehudit and the Haredi Shas party.

The protracted negotiations have dampened Netanyahu’s hopes of quickly forming a government after the November 1 election delivered the bloc he leads a 64-seat majority in the 120-lawmaker Knesset. Talks have hit roadblocks from his partners’ spiraling and sometimes competing demands.

According to Channel 12 news, the parties agreed to split up the current Ministry for the Development of the Periphery, the Negev and the Galilee, as Shas insisted on holding the “periphery” portfolio — referring to often-poorer towns outside Israel’s central population hubs — as it views such locales as a key component of its voter base.

Meanwhile, Shas will receive the Interior Ministry as well as the health and welfare portfolios.

Shas chairman Aryeh Deri leaves a meeting with Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu at a hotel in Jerusalem on November 16, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

However, Deri’s eligibility to be a minister is currently under a large question mark after the attorney general said his recent graft conviction could carry a finding of moral turpitude, which would bar him from holding a cabinet post for seven years. Deri received a 12-month suspended sentence last year but resigned from parliament before he signed a plea deal allowing him to dodge a conviction of moral turpitude.

Shas and Likud are reportedly looking into changing the law to allow the Shas leader, who served 22 months in prison from 2000 to 2002 on a bribe-taking conviction, to come back as a minister.

Meanwhile, Likud talks with Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism appeared to remain stalled.

Smotrich has demanded either the Defense Ministry or the Treasury, and Netanyahu appears to have agreed in recent days to give him the latter for at least the first two years of the government. Despite the reported progress, talks with Smotrich continued to be mired in mutual accusations, with Religious Zionism claiming Netanyahu had gone back on promises, and Likud accusing the far-right party of making exaggerated demands in exchange for fealty to the nascent government.

In addition to the first two years in the Finance Ministry, Smotrich has reportedly demanded the settlement affairs and immigrant absorption portfolios, as well as chair of four out of 11 coalition-controlled Knesset committees.

Citing sources involved in the talks, Haaretz reported that Smotrich also demanded control over the state’s Jewish conversion system.

Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu (left) speaks with Religious Zionist party head MK Bezalel Smotrich at the swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Reports indicated that Likud had agreed to hand Smotrich control of the Civil Administration — the part of the Defense Ministry that manages Area C in the West Bank, where all Israeli settlers and several thousand Palestinians live under Israeli civilian and military control.

But in a lengthy statement released Wednesday following reports of progress in talks, Religious Zionism accused Likud of constantly leaking “lies” to the press as part of the coalition negotiations, alleging that Likud wanted to “trample and humiliate and sideline” the party.

“Things weren’t okay” in more than a decade under Netanyahu, the party charged, and said that it “promised that it will be different this time,” referring to a list of its often radical demands regarding security, the judiciary, settlements, and religious matters.

Earlier Wednesday, Likud MK Yariv Levin, the party’s point man on coalition negotiations, reportedly said in private conversations that Smotrich’s demands to shift parts of ministries to his control, such as the Civil Administration, would form “a government within a government,” classifying the asks as “delusional.”

Meanwhile, the prospective coalition’s second Haredi party, United Torah Judaism, is expected to get the Housing Ministry and the Social Equality Ministry, expanded to include the labor department of the Finance Ministry.

UTJ’s Moshe Gafni was named chair of Knesset’s temporary Finance Committee on Monday and the party also wants control of the labor, health and internal affairs and environment committees.

But the Haredi party has also complained of feeling sidelined in negotiations.

Coalition negotiations between the parties have dragged on since Netanyahu was given a 28-day mandate earlier this month to form a government, amid squabbling over appointments and legislative priorities. The mandate expires December 11, but can be extended for two weeks.

Carrie Keller-Lynn and Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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