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Smotrich said to poll supporters over gov't reliant on Ra'am

Netanyahu taps Likud fixer Miki Zohar to head key Knesset steering panel

Party stalwart to head powerful Arrangements Committee, which controls legislative agenda until a new government is formed

Likud MK Miki Zohar seen at the Knesset, October 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK Miki Zohar seen at the Knesset, October 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tapped his party’s former coalition whip Miki Zohar to head the powerful Knesset Arrangements Committee, a move made possible after President Reuven Rivlin chose the premier to form a coalition following last month’s election.

The Arrangements Committee, the first in the Knesset to be formed after an election, determines which parliamentary committees will be formed and who will sit on them. Crucially, it also controls the legislative agenda in the new parliament until a new government is formed.

Netanyahu’s Likud party took control of the committee since it must be chaired by the party of the current prime minister-designate.

Zohar is a raucous and loyal defender of Netanyahu and Likud, and has forcefully backed the premier amid his ongoing legal troubles.

He often lashes government institutions such as the state prosecution and the High Court of Justice and backs the prime minister’s claims that he is the victim of a witch hunt amid his trial on graft charges.

In 2019, Zohar submitted legislation aimed at granting the prime minister immunity from prosecution.

In recent months, he has called Likud’s political opponents racist, compared pro-Trump insurrectionists to leftist protesters opposing Netanyahu, and said Reform Judaism is a threat to Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with MK Miki Zohar during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset, on December 7, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Rivlin tasked Netanyahu with forming a government last week after he received more recommendations than any other lawmaker from parties that won representation in the Knesset in the March 23 vote.

Netanyahu, with 52 recommendations, still did not receive a majority of backers in the 120-seat Knesset, however, and neither he nor the bloc of parties opposing his continued rule have a clear path to a governing coalition, leading to fears of a fifth rapid-fire election.

To reach a majority, Netanyahu needs the active support or outside backing of the right-wing Yamina party, the Islamist Ra’am faction and the Religious Zionism faction, home to far-right extremists.

Multiple — and mostly improbable — scenarios have been floated on how to reach the magic number of 61, including relying on outside support from Ra’am, despite opposition from right-wing lawmakers; trying to recruit “defectors” from other parties; and trying to get Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party to join such a coalition despite its key campaign promise not to join a Netanyahu-led government.

Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich at the party headquarters in Modi’in, on elections night, March 23, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

Religious Zionism has firmly ruled out any kind of partnership with Ra’am, which would likely doom Netanyahu’s prospects, but a Sunday report said party chairman Bezalel Smotrich had ordered a poll gauging whether its supporters would back a right-wing government that would rely on outside support from Ra’am.

According to the poll’s findings, slightly more than 50% of Religious Zionism supporters say they’d prefer such a coalition over a fifth consecutive election, the Walla news site reported.

The question was couched in an internal survey among a series of questions about the election and coalition negotiations. Religious Zionism denied the report, which did not cite its sources.

Several Ra’am officials in recent weeks have also ruled out working with Religious Zionism.

Haaretz reported Sunday that Likud was pressuring Smotrich to step back from his opposition to Ra’am and will continue to do so in the coming week.

Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas speaks during a press conference in Nazareth, April 1, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

If Netanyahu does not succeed in forming a government within 28 days, the president can either task a second person with the attempt (for another period of 28 days and a possible additional 14), or send the mandate back to the Knesset, giving the legislature 21 days to agree on a candidate supported by 61 MKs.

If the president appoints a second person and that person also fails to assemble a coalition, the mandate automatically returns to the Knesset for the 21-day period. During that time, any MK is eligible to attempt to form a government.

Rivlin has intimated he may not give the mandate to a second candidate if Netanyahu fails, but rather immediately send it back to the Knesset.

At the end of the 21-day period, if no candidate has been agreed upon by 61 MKs, the new Knesset automatically disbands and the country heads to yet another election, which would be the fifth in under three years.

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