The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.
AG asks top court to reject petition against Ben Gvir’s appointment as minister
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara asks the High Court of Justice to reject a petition against the appointment of far-right Otzma Yehudit chief Itamar Ben Gvir as national security minister.
Baharav-Miara calls the petition premature as Ben Gvir has not yet taken office and it therefore addresses a theoretical.
Both Ben Gvir and incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu were ordered by the court on Monday to respond to the petition.
“There is no place for judicial intervention in light of the discretion granted to the prime minister in appointing ministers in his government,” Netanyahu’s lawyers write today in response, according to the Ynet news site.
Netanyahu hands out additional ministries to Likud MKs; Miri Regev back at transportation
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu hands out additional ministerial posts to members of his Likud party.
MK Miri Regev will helm the Transportation Ministry, which she has previously led, and will be tasked with organizing the official commemoration of Israel’s 75th Independence Day next year. Regev similarly oversaw official state events when serving as culture minister from 2015 to 2020.
She will also be part of the high-level security cabinet.
Other appointments include Likud MK Ofir Akunis as science and technology minister and MK Miki Zohar as culture and sports minister.
MK Idit Silman, whose defection from the last coalition helped precipitate its collapse, is given the Environmental Protection Ministry.
Likud okays severing Border Police from larger force, giving Ben Gvir direct control
Otzma Yehudit has secured a Likud agreement to disconnect the Border Police a gendarmerie force from the Israel Police and put it under the immediate control of incoming National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, the parties’ coalition deal reveals.
The deal stipulates that the move will be made within 90 days of the government’s formation, “making it into an independent service in similar status to the Israel Prison Service and subjecting it to the authority of the minister.”
The Border Police will subsequently answer to the minister directly, giving him control over a force that carries out sensitive operations in the West Bank and is in charge of quelling Palestinian riots and protests.
Netanyahu said refusing to participate in change of government ceremony with Lapid
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is refusing to participate in the traditional handover ceremony of the premiership with Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Channel 12 reports.
Netanyahu had also refused to participate in the ceremony when he was replaced last year by Naftali Bennett.
During his year in opposition, Netanyahu repeatedly sought to delegitimize the Bennett-Lapid coalition that succeeded in ousting him after 12 years in power.
The report says Netanyahu will only take part in a transitional briefing with Lapid.
Netanyahu appoints Shlomo Karhi as communications minister
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu appoints Likud MK Shlomo Karhi as communications minister.
Karhi, known for his inflammatory rhetoric, has never served as a minister before.
Last month Karhi voiced support for shutting down the news division of the Kan public broadcaster and Army Radio.
On last day in office, Gantz speaks to Abbas: Critical to maintain dialogue
In one of his last acts as defense minister, Benny Gantz phones Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss Israel’s security cooperation with the Palestinians, according to his office.
The outgoing defense minister “emphasized the important ties” between Israel and the PA, and told Abbas “it is critical to maintain an open channel of communication and coordination,” Gantz’s office says.
Gantz also tells Abbas that “measures taken against Israel in international forums,” including those being advanced by the PA, “will harm the Palestinian people and will only further alienate any political process in the future,” the statement adds.
Gantz is set to be replaced by Likud MK Yoav Gallant in the coming days, once Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government is sworn in.
Netanyahu appoints Avi Dichter as agriculture minister
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu appoints Avi Dichter as agriculture minister.
Dichter, a Likud MK, is a former Shin Bet chief.
Palestinians slam Netanyahu government agenda: A dangerous escalation
The Palestinian Authority slams the agenda of the incoming Israeli government published earlier today, which calls to expand settlements in the West Bank, as a dangerous escalation.
“These guidelines constitute a dangerous escalation and will have repercussions for the region,” says Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Abu Rudeineh says that Israel must realize that without complying with the UN resolutions “nothing will be achieved and that there will not be any settlement left on the lands of the independent state of Palestine.”
Abu Rudeineh calls on the US administration “to turn its words into deeds since it is committed to the two-state solution, without which there will be no stability in the region.”
Turkish, Syrian, Russian defense chiefs hold surprise talks
The Turkish, Syrian and Russian defense ministers have held previously unannounced talks in Moscow, the Turkish and Russian defense ministries say. It was the first ministerial level meeting between rivals Turkey and Syria since the start of the Syrian conflict 11 years ago.
A Turkish defense ministry statement says the Turkish, Syrian and Russian intelligence chiefs also attended the talks in Moscow which, it said, took place in a “positive atmosphere.”
The discussion focused on “the Syrian crisis, the refugee problem and efforts for a joint struggle against terror organizations present on Syrian territory,” the ministry says.
It adds that the sides would continue to hold trilateral meetings.
Russia has long been pressing for reconciliation between Turkey and the Syrian government — Moscow’s close ally — who have been standing on opposite sides in Syria’s civil war.
Turkey-backed rebels trying to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. Damascus for its part denounced Turkey’s hold over stretches of territory in northern Syria which were seized in Turkish military incursions launched since 2016 to drive Kurdish militant groups away from the frontier.
Russia’s Defense Ministry confirmed that the three ministers discussed ways to resolve the Syrian crisis, the refugee issue and to combat extremist groups.
King Abdullah warns incoming Israeli government not to cross Jordan’s ‘red lines’
Jordan’s King Abdullah II warns the incoming Israeli government not to cross Jordan’s red lines with regard to Jerusalem’s holy sites.
In an interview with CNN, Abdullah is asked if he believes that the status quo in Jerusalem and Jordan’s role was threatened.
There is particular sensitivity around Israel’s ties with neighbor Jordan, which is a custodian of the Temple Mount, setting up a potential clash with hardline lawmakers from Netanyahu’s coalition like Otzmah Yehudit chair Itamar Ben Gvir who has pushed for Israel to assert its sovereignty over the Jerusalem holy site and allow Jewish worship at the site.
“You always have those people that will try and push that and that is a concern,” says Abdullah without mentioning names.
“If people want to get into a conflict with us, we are quite prepared. I always like to believe that let’s look at the glass half full, but we have set red lines and if people want to push those red lines then we will deal with that,” he says.
Abdullah notes that “there are a lot of people in Israel concerned as much as we are.”
הנה החלק הרלוונטי מהריאיון של מלך ירדן עבדאללה השני ל- @CNN
"תמיד יש אנשים שידחפו לשינוי במעמד המקומות הקדושים…
אם אנשים רוצים להיכנס לעימות איתנו – אנחנו מוכנים. אני רוצה להסתכל על חצי הכוס המלאה, אבל יש לנו קווים אדומים. אם יחצו אותם- נתמודד עם זה" https://t.co/Nhx0mR4Tz9 pic.twitter.com/SS1vadxspE
— Shahar Alharal (@ShaharAl2) December 28, 2022
Jordan views itself as a custodian of the Temple Mount, a status Israel does not recognize, though it acknowledged the kingdom’s “special role” at the site in the countries’ 1994 peace treaty.
The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism and the site of the third holiest shrine in Islam.
Israel captured the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. However, it allowed the Jordanian Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop the mount.
Small changes at the site or to that arrangement are liable to spark protests which could snowball beyond Jordan or the Palestinians to the wider Muslim world.
Ben Gvir and others in the Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit alliance have long pushed for changes to the status quo, under which only Muslims are allowed to worship within the compound while Jews may visit Judaism’s holiest site, but not pray there.
Katz said to storm out of meeting with Netanyahu on foreign minister post
Likud MK Israel Katz reportedly storms out of a meeting with incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu is meeting Likud MKs as he allocates the final portfolios in his government.
Katz was favored to get the foreign ministry, either full-time or in a rotation with former ambassador to the US Ron Dermer.
However, Hebrew media reported that Katz was told in the meeting that he would be in a rotation with fellow Likud MK Eli Cohen.
Following the meeting Likud issues a terse statement saying that the foreign ministry position has not yet been decided.
Netanyahu appoints Yariv Levin as justice minister to oversee controversial judicial reforms
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu appoints MK Yariv Levin as justice minister.
The appointment of Levin, a key Netanyahu confidant, to the post, was widely expected.
Levin will oversee some of the new government’s most controversial policies, with all parties in the coalition vowing to push ahead with judicial reforms that will see the Knesset reduce the oversite power of the courts and expand its control over judicial appointments.
Levin will also oversee the justice system during Netanyahu’s ongoing trial for corruption.
Former diplomats, ambassadors warn incoming government will harm Israel
More than 100 former Israeli diplomats and ambassadors sign a letter to incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning of damage to Israel’s standing if the new government implements its hard-right policies.
The signatories express “profound concern at the serious damage to Israel’s foreign relations, its international standing and its core interests abroad emanating from what will apparently be the policy of the incoming government,” they write in the letter in both Hebrew and English.
They note fears of the government’s actions in the West Bank and the passing of discriminatory laws and damage to free speech and democracy in Israel.
The letter warns that the backlash could harm Israel’s alliance with the US and undo the progress of the Abraham Accords normalization agreements with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco.
They also warn Israel could face sanctions and prosecution in international courts.
מעל 100 שגרירי ישראל לשעבר ברחבי העולם במכתב לנתניהו: ״אנחנו חוששים שההתפתחויות האחרונות בזירת הפנים תגרורנה תגובה בינלאומית קשה״. והם מפרסמים את הדברים גם באנגלית. בין החותמים שגרירים לשעבר בהודו, טורקיה, קונסולים ברחבי ארה״ב ועוד. pic.twitter.com/hKB8t6p2UP
— Tal Schneider טל שניידר تال شنايدر (@talschneider) December 28, 2022
IDF spokesperson gets bodyguard due to death threats after spat with settler leader
The Israel Defense Forces decide to step up security for military spokesperson Ran Kochav after he receives a slew of death threats online.
Kochav will be accompanied by a bodyguard during all excursions out of his office, the Kan public broadcaster reports.
The threats started after Kochav was targeted by a hardline settler leader, Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan, who accused him of turning the Spokesperson’s Unit into an “extreme leftist party.”
The incident began after an assistant to Likud MK Nir Barkat published photos of tweets from the personal accounts of several soldiers in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit that included criticism of “the occupation” and of incoming premier Benjamin Netanyahu.
Jordan’s King Abdullah warns of fresh Palestinian intifada
Jordanian King Abdullah II warns that there could be a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
“We have to be concerned about the next intifada,” Abdullah tells CNN in an excerpt from an interview with the channel.
“And if that happens that’s a complete breakdown of law and order and one that neither the Israelis nor Palestinians will benefit from,” he says.
The clip did not provide the context for the assessment, which comes after a year of spiraling violence in the West Bank and a day before the swearing-in of a hardline Israeli government.
Here's a short clip from the interview: pic.twitter.com/AP4VqQqu2m
— Becky Anderson (@BeckyCNN) December 28, 2022
Smotrich tells WSJ new government will make Israel like America
Far-right Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, who is set to be finance minister in the incoming government, makes his pitch to the US public in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, saying controversial reforms proposed by the new government simply aim to make Israel more like America.
Smotrich says he has been “vilified” by the US media, which mistakenly portrays him as someone who plans to implement religious law.
“In reality, we seek to strengthen every citizen’s freedoms and the country’s democratic institutions, bringing Israel more closely in line with the liberal American model,” he says.
He also justifies planned judicial reforms that will limit the power of the judiciary as another attempt to imitate the US model.
“Israel’s justice system also needs urgent reform to restore democratic balance, individual rights and public trust. In the US, elected politicians appoint federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, making the bench at least indirectly responsive to the people. In Israel, sitting Supreme Court justices have veto power over new appointments to the court,” he says.
“Our emphasis on judicial reform is meant to bring Israel closer to the American political model with some limited checks to ensure the judicial system respects the law. We seek to appoint judges in Israel in a process similar to America’s.”
Smotrich also broadens his appeal to the US public, saying that as finance minister he plans to crack down on Israeli labor unions.
“As finance minister, I will pursue a broad free-market policy. This includes removing the government price controls and import restrictions that have limited competition and kept consumer prices high, as well as regulatory reforms and a loosening of bureaucratic control over small businesses. Inspired by US right-to-work laws, we will pursue similar measures to reduce union control in Israel’s labor force,” he says.
Netanyahu appoints Yoav Kisch as education minister
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces that Likud MK Yoav Kisch will be the next education minister.
Kisch will also serve as a coordinator between the government and the Knesset.
Kisch has previously served as deputy health minister.
Arkia to launch first Israeli flights to Turkey in 15 years
Arkia airlines announces that it will launch new flights to Turkey, the first Israeli company to fly there in 15 years.
The announcement comes a day after Israel’s ambassador to Turkey Irit Lillian presented her credentials as the two countries restored full diplomatic ties.
Israeli airlines stopped flying to Turkey amid security fears.
Arkia will begin flying to Istanbul in late February and flights to Antalya will start a month later.
Fearing ‘Capitol invasion 2,’ Knesset speaker holds security consultation
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin holds a security consultation with top police brass, including commissioner Kobi Shabtai ahead of the swearing-in of the new government tomorrow, his office says.
The statement gives no further details, but the Walla news site reports that Levin fears those opposed to the new far-right government could storm the Knesset in protest.
Levin reportedly tells Shabtai he fears a “Capitol invasion 2,” a reference to the storming of the US Capitol two years ago by supporters of Donald Trump who refused to accept his election loss.
However, police tell Levin there are no warnings or threats of such an occurrence in Israel and no extra precautions were being taken, Walla reports.
NYT: Biden launches major effort to choke Iran’s drone program, end supply to Russia
The Biden administration has launched a major effort to choke Iran’s ability to manufacture and deliver drones for Russia to use in the war in Ukraine, the New York Times reports, likening the move to the years-long effort to halt Iran’s drive toward nuclear weapons.
The report says the US is cooperating closely with Israel on the issue, and building on Jerusalem’s experience thwarting Iranian drone attacks.
Citing multiple security officials in the US, Europe and the Middle East, the report says that the program also aims to give Ukraine the ability to shoot down any “kamikaze” drones that Russia does manage to acquire or target their launch sites.
Among the steps being taken is blocking access to Western-made components that Iran uses in the drones, the report says, adding that stopping Iran from acquiring the dual-use technology is proving challenging.
“We are looking at ways to target Iranian UAV production through sanctions, export controls, and talking to private companies whose parts have been used in the production,” Adrienne Watson, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council says, using the acronym for unmanned aerial vehicles.
“We are assessing further steps we can take in terms of export controls to restrict Iran’s access to technologies used in drones,” she adds.
Gantz tells graduating pilots they could be flying to attack Iran in coming years
Benny Gantz, in what is likely his last speech as defense minister, says that Israel has significantly improved its readiness to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“Israel has significantly increased its preparedness in recent years and is preparing for the possibility of an attack on Iran,” Gantz says at a pilots’ graduation course at the Hatzerim Airbase in southern Israel.
In a message to the new pilots, Gantz says some of them may participate in a potential strike in Iran.
“You may cross the sky to the east in two or three years and take part in an attack on nuclear sites in Iran, for which we are preparing,” he says.
“Others of you may have to fly deep into the territory in Lebanon and Syria, or head out on missions to rescue Jews from around the world. I believe in your ability to succeed in these missions, not only because of the excellent aircraft you will fly in, but because of your morals and professionalism that connects you to them,” Gantz adds.
At air force ceremony, Lapid warns Iran of Israel’s long reach
Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid issues a warning to Iran during a pilots course graduation ceremony.
“Two weeks ago we held a large-scale joint exercise with the US Air Force. The exercise, which simulated an attack thousands of kilometers from Israel’s borders, was the first of a series of planned exercises in the near future,” Lapid says at the Hatzerim Airbase in southern Israel.
“Our enemies should know that we will not stand idly by in the face of threats that we see as existential. I discussed this with incoming prime minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, and this is one of the few issues on which there is a consensus in the Israeli public. No Israeli government will agree to Iran becoming nuclear. If it is necessary to act, we will act,” Lapid says.
Netanyahu names Yoav Gallant defense minister
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu picks Yoav Gallant as defense minister.
The appointment of Gallant, a former top IDF general, was widely expected.
Gallant, who began his military career in the elite Shayetet 13 naval commando unit, is a highly regarded military strategist and was former defense minister Ehud Barak’s choice for the next IDF chief of staff in 2010. However, he had to give up the position after becoming embroiled in a scandal regarding the encroachment of his house and garden onto public lands.
In coalition deal Noam gets millions for ‘Department of Jewish State Consciousness’
The newly published coalition agreements show that the far-right anti-LGBT party Noam has secured some NIS 70 million per year to set up what’s being called the Department of Jewish State Consciousness.
The mandate of the new department is not immediately clear, but the coalition agreement signed between Avi Maoz, the head of the one-man Noam faction, and Likud guarantees it five staffers.
The establishment of the department is in addition to the NIS 300 million over two years Maoz is to receive for his Jewish National Identity office, an increase of NIS 50 million over what he was previously promised. He will also be given the title of deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, where his Jewish National Identity office will sit.
As previously reported, Maoz will also assume control over Nativ, which manages Jewish immigration from former Soviet states, and an Education Ministry unit in charge of external educational programming in public schools.
Maoz said his goal is to increase “transparency” to parents over the school programming. In connection to Nativ, Maoz has said that he wants to tighten eligibility requirements to be closer to the Orthodox definition of Jewishness.
Angry Likud members who did not get top jobs lash out at Netanyahu
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing angry members of his party who did not get the top jobs in the new government that they were angling for.
Both David Amsalem and Danny Danon, who wanted the Knesset speaker position, shouted at Netanyahu during a Likud faction meeting.
Amsalem, who was told yesterday he would not get that post nor that of justice minister, shouted at Netanyahu, who tried to interrupt him.
“You won’t interrupt me, let me speak,” he shouted.
“You and he can’t do whatever you want,” he says angrily pointing at Yariv Levin, who will get the justice portfolio.
Dannon also rails at Netanyahu for not convening the Likud faction sooner, saying party MKs were not consulted on the coalition agreements with other parties.
“It’s a chutzpah that the faction was not convened sooner. It is not acceptable to me that you did whatever you wanted with the agreements,” he says.
Several other shouting matches erupt between Likud MKs.
Religious Zionism coalition deal calls to recognize illegal outposts within 60 days
Ahead of the swearing-in of the government, parties publish their coalition agreements.
The deal between Likud and Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party calls for a government decision within 60 days to recognize the so-called “young settlements.”
These illegal outposts were established without government approval and as such are ineligible for many government services.
Also included in the deal are the legislation of laws to expand the criteria for conversion to Judaism, changes to immigration law, strengthening bodies that work to boost Israel’s Jewish identity and the appointment of a chief rabbi from the national religious camp.
It also calls for amending laws that ban gender-segregated public events.
Likud picks Amir Ohana as Knesset speaker
The Likud faction at the Knesset unanimously chooses MK Amir Ohana as its candidate for speaker of the Knesset — which means Ohana is assured of winning the Knesset’s support for the post.
The faction also chooses MK Ofir Katz as coalition chair.
Speaker of the House is a key position that combines running the parliament — ensuring a dignified debate and upholding the Knesset laws — and representing it overseas, and filling in for the president when he is unavailable.
Ohana, who was Israel’s first openly gay minister, has served previously as both justice and internal security minister. He is known as fiercely loyal to Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu presents government’s agenda, with focus on judicial reform, expanding settlements
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces his new government’s agenda, a day before its members are set to take their oaths of office, with a focus on expanding settlement in the West Bank and laws that will curb the power of the courts.
The agenda, the government’s first official communication to the public about its priorities and intentions, reflects the goals of the Likud-led coalition with far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties.
“The Jewish people have an exclusive and inalienable right to all parts of the Land of Israel. The government will promote and develop settlement in all parts of the Land of Israel –- in the Galilee, the Negev, the Golan, Judea and Samaria,” the agenda says, the last two being the Biblical names for the West Bank.
The agenda notes several priorities in the realm of law and order.
“The government will take steps to ensure governance and restore the proper balance between the legislative, executive, and judiciary,” it says in reference to a planned “override law” that will let the Knesset re-legislate bills struck down by the High Court as undemocratic, alongside plans to give politicians more control over the selection of judges.
It also refers to the far-right parties’ demands to give security forces greater leeway in using deadly force against Palestinian attackers.
“The government will work to strengthen the security forces and to give backing to the fighters and police officers in order to fight and defeat terrorism,” it says.
Amid fears that the incoming government will move toward imposing religious law, the agenda, however, commits to maintaining the so-called status quo.
“The government will preserve the Jewish character of the state and the heritage of Israel, as well as respect the religions and traditions of adherents of the country’s religions, in accordance with the values of the Declaration of Independence,” it says.
“The status quo on issues of religion and state will be maintained as it has been for decades in Israel, including with regard to the holy places,” it adds.
Also making the list are a commitment to education, reducing the cost of living and tackling the housing crisis, and continuing “the struggle against Iran’s nuclear program.”
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