Likud says it will form government ‘quickly,’ as Herzog consults parties on PM pick

Yariv Levin tells president talks over reforms only valid if not being used as a delay tactic, as pre-ordained process kicks off ahead of Netanyahu being handed mandate Sunday

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

Likud party MKs speak to the press after meeting with President Isaac Herzog at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, November 9, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud party MKs speak to the press after meeting with President Isaac Herzog at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, November 9, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Senior Likud lawmaker Yariv Levin said Wednesday that his party is aiming to rapidly form Israel’s next government, as President Isaac Herzog kicked off formal consultations with politicians before tasking Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu with establishing the next coalition.

The comments from Levin came amid reports that Netanyahu is pushing parties to form a government as early as next week.

“We will make an effort to form the government as quickly as possible,” said Levin, a confidant to Netanyahu and the party’s chief negotiator. He made the comments at the president’s official Jerusalem residence, shortly after delivering his party’s recommendation that Netanyahu be tapped to form the next government.

Likud lawmaker Eli Cohen, part of the party’s delegation, said that the government will be formed “in the coming weeks,” in remarks following Levin’s.

Netanyahu did not attend the formal consultation with Herzog, who as president is entrusted with deciding which politician will have the right to try to form the next government after an election.

Netanyahu’s bloc won 64 seats and he is expected to receive the mandate from Herzog on Sunday, stripping the process of the suspense that accompanied it in past elections which produced deadlocks between Netanyahu and his rivals. What little drama there was on Wednesday came as the result of Herzog being caught on a hot mic warning the Shas party about far-right Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir, saying “the entire world is anxious about him.”

With the process seemingly a mere formality, Netanyahu has wasted no time in getting his allies in a row. The Likud leader spent Wednesday in a series of meetings with party leaders from his right-wing and ultra-Orthodox bloc, in order to hammer out government positions, policy and budgetary promises, and draft a preliminary coalition agreement.

Likud candidates and partner parties expected to form Israel’s next government declared to voters their intention to reform the country’s judicial system, update security protocols and roll back religious reforms.

Likud party chairman MK Benjamin Netanyahu seen after coalition talks at a hotel in Jerusalem on November 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

When asked by Herzog if Likud planned to employ “dialogue” with existing authorities to advance changes, Levin said that talks should not be used for foot-dragging.

“Dialogue isn’t a word to whitewash paralysis,” Levin told Herzog, adding that Likud is “of course for a dialogue.”

Levin has pushed for reforms that would transfer power from the courts to politicians, in particular creating a legislative override to Supreme Court invalidation of laws as unconstitutional and reshaping the committee that appoints judges to give a majority to the political majority of the day.

Echoing Likud MK Miri Regev, who was also present in the meeting and pushed for “sovereignty of the public” — via its representatives in the Knesset — over rule of the courts, Levin said that the Knesset is not the party shutting down dialogue with the country’s public authorities.

“Unfortunately in the past years, this dialogue was missing — and not on part of the lawmaking authority,” he said.

In addition to Likud, Yesh Atid, National Unity and Shas also met with Herzog on Wednesday, the first of three days of Herzog’s legally mandated party consultations before recommending a candidate to try to form Israel’s 37th government.

National Unity said it would remain in the opposition and declined to recommend any candidate to form the next government, saying that presumptive incoming prime minister Netanyahu would lead a bad government and that current prime minister Yair Lapid lacks the numbers to do so.

National Unity party politicians speak to the press after meeting with President Isaac Herzog at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, November 9, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Herzog pressed the party why it would not join the expected incoming coalition, where it could be a moderating force, counterbalancing the far-right Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit party, now expected to be a prominent player in the next government.

“Citizens in the past hour have written to me and asked why the National Unity party won’t join the forming government,” Herzog said to party representatives. If that were to happen, he said, the government “will be broader and more stable, and it won’t go to places that part of the public fears that it will get to.”

National Unity lawmaker Eitan Ginsburg said that in addition to his party’s lack of trust in Netanyahu after he reneged on promises made to the party as part of a unity government in 2020, the party does not believe it “can be influential over the policy they want to advance.”

Ginsburg is an openly gay lawmaker, and a number of Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit’s incoming lawmakers — including its leader — have expressed homophobic sentiments and plan to try to roll back LGBT rights.

Ze’ev Elkin, who joined the National Unity alliance via its right-wing New Hope faction, said that he was particularly concerned that the incoming government may try to break Israel’s balance between religion and state, highlighting recent statements made by ultra-Orthodox bloc members in favor of reforming the law that entitles diaspora Jewish to Israeli citizenship to exclude grandchildren of Jews who are not Jewish themselves.

Elkin is a Soviet Ukraine-born observant Jew, and many of Israel’s immigrants from the former Soviet Union are sensitive to immigration matters touching upon standards of Jewishness.

Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata said the party would not recommend Lapid, or another candidate from its so-called “change bloc” — named in a nod to its unification around the principle of ousting Netanyahu from power after 12 consecutive years at the helm — because none had a chance to form a government against the Likud’s presumptive 64 seat bloc in the 120-lawmaker Knesset.

National Unity leader and Defense Minister Benny Gantz had been a prime ministerial hopeful, posing himself as exactly the moderating, unity-focused candidate that Herzog suggested the party may still be — albeit not from the top seat.

Yesh Atid party politicians speak to the press after meeting with President Isaac Herzog at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, November 9, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In what is largely regarded as a symbolic move, Yesh Atid recommended party leader Lapid as the candidate to form the next government.

The Labor party is the only other party expected to recommend Lapid to Herzog when they meet Friday.

Yesh Atid reaffirmed its intention to head into the opposition after its short stint leading the coalition, throwing a barb at Likud for what it called a flexible ideology to regain control.

“It’s not necessary to change values just to be in power,” Energy Minister Karine Elharrar told Herzog.

Likud absorbed much criticism for embracing far-right parties harboring extreme stances that go far beyond Likud’s positions. Some of these include policies that treat Jews and Arabs unequally,  deportation for “disloyal” citizens and constraining LGBT rights.

“We need to be an alternative, to keep democratic and liberal values,” said Yesh Atid faction director MK Boaz Toporovsky.

Shas, which ran a campaign tightly focused on cost-of-living issues and promising to support its largely Mizrahi Haredi base, pledged to cancel a number of measures put in place by the outgoing government that irk its base, including a law that taxed single-use utensils.

“You should see what it’s like to have dinner with six children and wash dishes,” said party lawmaker Yoav Ben Tzur, adding that it detracts from family quality time.

The party also recommended Netanyahu for the premiership.

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