Report: Smotrich to become finance minister, defense portfolio to stay in Likud

Religious Zionism party head Bezalel Smotrich attends a discussion in the Knesset on November 21, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Religious Zionism party head Bezalel Smotrich attends a discussion in the Knesset on November 21, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu reaches a compromise with Religious Zionist party leader Bezalel Smotrich in the stalled coalition talks, in which the defense portfolio will stay with Likud while Smotrich will become finance minister, Channel 12 reports.

Smotrich had demanded the Defense Ministry, which would have given him significant control over the West Bank and over the daily lives of Palestinians. Such an appointment was fiercely opposed by the United States and was criticized domestically as well, including by right-wing figures, some of whom noted Smotrich’s lack of security experience and extreme positions regarding the Palestinians.

Smotrich served only briefly in the IDF. He was also arrested in 2005 during protests against the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip and was held by the Shin Bet security service for three weeks, maintaining his right to remain silent and refusing to cooperate with the investigation. No indictment was filed against him. He was part of a cell of five people who were caught allegedly planning an attack on motorists on the Ayalon Highway with 700 liters of gasoline.

According to Channel 12’s unsourced report, Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party will nevertheless have some control over Israel’s West Bank policies and will be able to name a subordinate minister within the Defense Ministry, similar to Minister Michael Biton, who currently has such a position under outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Likud MK Yoav Gallant, a former IDF general, has been named as the presumptive next defense minister in such an arrangement.

Under the proposed compromise, which has yet to be confirmed by the parties, Smotrich will gain control of the Finance Ministry, while the other main contender for that job — Shas leader Aryeh Deri — will get the Interior Ministry, Religious Services Ministry and a position in the Prime Minister’s Office for his party, as well as the Negev and Galilee Ministry, which controls funds for those farther-flung, generally disadvantaged regions of the country. Deri will also be named a deputy prime minister.

Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, will be named public security minister, giving him control over the police, and his party will also take the Agriculture Ministry.

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