ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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Amsalem says he was told he'll remain a backbencher

Netanyahu begins meeting with Likud MKs to dole out remaining ministries

Incoming PM seeks to assuage party members after top posts given to allies; Ohana may be Knesset speaker, Israel Katz may be foreign minister in rotation with ex-envoy to US Dermer

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is surrounded by MKs after a vote for the new Knesset speaker on December 13, 2022. At bottom right is Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is surrounded by MKs after a vote for the new Knesset speaker on December 13, 2022. At bottom right is Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday began meeting with lawmakers from his Likud party to dole out ministerial positions ahead of his government’s expected swearing-in later this week.

Several leading Likud members are vying for the remaining spots left after many of the prime portfolios were handed out to coalition partners from other parties.

Netanyahu parceling out the positions to other parties, rather than keeping them within Likud, has sparked criticism from several senior lawmakers from within his faction.

Netanyahu met with Likud firebrand David Amsalem on Tuesday evening and was set to meet later with loyalist Amir Ohana.

Amsalem said in a bitter message after the meeting that he would not be receiving any ministries.

“This, unfortunately, is the price you pay for loyalty and standing for your principles,” he said.

Amsalem had waged a media campaign for the role of Knesset speaker or justice minister in recent weeks.

Ohana has sought the role of foreign minister, but Netanyahu is considering appointing him as Knesset speaker instead, unsourced Hebrew media reports said. Netanyahu is scheduled to convene his faction on Wednesday and will announce the appointment for Knesset speaker at the meeting.

The incoming prime minister was expected to hold a final round of consultations on ministerial appointments later Tuesday and to continue meeting with Likud MKs on Wednesday afternoon, only one day before the scheduled swearing-in at the Knesset.

MK Israel Katz has also demanded the foreign ministry, and Netanyahu is reportedly considering appointing him to the role in a rotation with another candidate, likely former Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, several outlets reported.

MK David Amsalem at the Federation of Local Authorities conference in Tel Aviv, December 8, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Netanyahu has sought to bring Dermer, a close confidante, into the government in a top role. Netanyahu has previously been said to be considering appointing Dermer as foreign minister, an idea that has been contested by senior Likud members.

Yariv Levin, who has stepped in as Knesset speaker in a temporary capacity and resigned from that role Tuesday, is the leading candidate to helm the Justice Ministry, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Previous reports have said Likud’s Yoav Gallant is likely to be appointed as defense minister and Eli Cohen as education minister. MK Miri Regev has reportedly been in the running for the education portfolio.

Netanyahu has reportedly been considering offering some of the senior ministerial roles to MKs who have either made moves against his leadership recently or have been perceived as doing so, in order to neutralize the threat within the party’s ranks.

These include Amsalem, Katz, David Bitan and Yuli Edelstein.

Other senior Likud MKs being considered for portfolios include Yoav Kisch, Danny Danon and Ofir Akunis.

According to a Channel 12 news report Tuesday, Kisch is expected to be communications minister while Likud MKs Haim Katz and Avi Dichter are likely to respectively helm the tourism and energy ministries. MK Idit Silman will reportedly be appointed as either environmental protection, science and technology or social equality minister.

The network, which did not cite a source, said Akunis was demanding the Economy Ministry, but it was not clear if he would receive it.

Likud MK Amir Ohana attends the inauguration ceremony of a new neighborhood in Beit El, in the West Bank, July 12, 2022. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Right-wing powerhouse Likud is the largest party in the government. The rest of Netanyahu’s coalition comprises Likud’s longtime Haredi allies Shas and United Torah Judaism, and the far-right Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit and Noam parties.

On Tuesday, outgoing Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman warned that a coalition agreement between Likud party and UTJ will cost Israeli taxpayers some NIS 20 billion ($5.7 billion.)

“All the coalition agreements will lead to collapse. What we are seeing are negative incentives,” he told reporters, referring to government subsidies for yeshiva students that keep them out of the workforce.

“The coalition deal with UTJ is estimated at NIS 20 billion annually,” Liberman added.

Finance Minister, Yisrael Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, on December 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some of the top positions Netanyahu has distributed to other parties include giving the expanded national security ministry to Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben Gvir and the housing ministry to UTJ’s Yitzhak Goldknopf.

A Religious Zionism member, likely party leader Bezalel Smotrich, will be appointed as an independent minister within the Defense Ministry responsible for overseeing Israeli and Palestinian building in the West Bank’s Area C, an area under full Israeli civil and military control that is home to nearly 500,000 Israeli settlers and over 300,000 Palestinians.

In addition to his presumed placement as an independent settlement minister in the Defense Ministry, Smotrich is slated to become finance minister, which he is expected to hand over to Shas’s Aryeh Deri in a rotation halfway through the government’s term.

Deri has been promised to simultaneously hold the interior and health ministries, before replacing Smotrich as finance minister.

Shas party leader MK Aryeh Deri seen during a vote in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on December 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The incoming coalition passed contentious legislation Tuesday to allow Smotrich and Deri to take up those posts, changing the quasi-constitutional Basic Law undergirding the government to smooth the path for the two party leaders’ ministerial appointments. The legislation allowed for an independent minister in the Defense Ministry, and for Deri to serve as a minister despite his recent suspended sentence for tax offenses.

Smotrich and Deri demanded the legislation in advance of the swearing-in of the government.

Noam leader Avi Maoz is set to serve as a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, heading a unit in charge of Israel’s “Jewish national identity” in the incoming government. Maoz has decried female enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces and has said that he would work to shut down an army unit in charge of promoting equal opportunities for women in the military.

As part of the office on Jewish identity, Maoz is slated to take control over an Education Ministry unit in charge of approving external educational vendors, who play a critical role in school programming. Especially prevalent in secular schools, these vendors cover a range of subjects from sexual health to bar mitzvah preparation.

Levin formally told the Knesset on Monday of Netanyahu’s success in forming a coalition. The announcement started a seven-day clock for when the coalition must be sworn in.

Levin said that a hearing and confidence vote on the incoming government is slated for Thursday morning, though it can be delayed until the morning of January 2.

Divvying up ministerial roles to Likud lawmakers is one of the key stumbling blocks remaining for Netanyahu. He also still needs to pass legislation strengthening Ben Gvir’s authority over police and formalize coalition agreements with most of the parties in his bloc.

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