Planned Lapid-Bennett security cabinet would have right-wing majority

Full cabinet of at least 26 members said to include one-third women, one-third religious Jews, one-third Sephardi origin; will also have Arab and Ethiopian-origin ministers

Then-education minister Naftali Bennett (L) and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid during a ceremony at Netiv Ha'avot, at the West Bank's Elazar settlement, on July 23, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Then-education minister Naftali Bennett (L) and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid during a ceremony at Netiv Ha'avot, at the West Bank's Elazar settlement, on July 23, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Under a planned unity government being put together by Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Yamina chief Naftali Bennett in a bid to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the top-level security cabinet will have a clear majority of right-wing members, Hebrew media reported Sunday.

The reported makeup of the body would indicate the extent of concessions made by Lapid to Bennett and comes with Netanyahu trying to portray the emerging coalition as a “left-wing government” that is “a danger to the security of Israel and a danger to the future of the state.”

But according to reports by the Kan public broadcaster and Channel 12 news, the high-level body will be made up of either 10 or 12 members, but in either case with a clear right-wing majority.

According to the reports, the security cabinet will include three Yamina members, Bennett, Ayelet Shaked and Matan Kahana. There will be two members of the Likud-breakaway New Hope party, Gideon Sa’ar and Ze’ev Elkin, along with fellow hardliner, Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman.

Yesh Atid will only have one security cabinet member, Lapid. There will be also one representative from Blue and White, Benny Gantz; one representative from Labor, Merav Michaeli; and one from Meretz, Nitzan Horowitz.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi (L) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz (R). (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Minister)

Under such a scenario, the right would have a 6-4 majority over the center and left.

The report also said that there were talks on adding two more members, Labor’s Omer Barlev and New Hope’s Yoaz Hendel. If added, the right would enjoy a 7-5 advantage.

Under Israeli law, the security cabinet can have no more than half the number of ministers there are in the government. It can include additional ministers who are observers and can’t vote on cabinet decisions.

By law, the prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister, finance minister, public security minister and justice minister must all be members of the security cabinet.

New Right candidate Matan Kahana before his discharge from the air force (Avichai Socher)

Yamina’s Kahana is a political neophyte but earned his security chops serving with Bennett in the elite Sayeret Matkal unit in the early 1990s, before going on to become a pilot and command an F-16 squadron.

Under the emerging rotation deal between Yamina and Yesh Atid, Bennett will serve as prime minister until September 2023 before handing the reins to Lapid. Joining the coalition will be a mix of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties that have refused to continue joining governments led by Netanyahu, who is on trial in three criminal cases.

The reports said that under the emerging agreement, the full cabinet would have at least 26 members.

  • Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (Yamina) — will serve first as prime minister for 2 years and three months under a rotation agreement with Lapid.
  • Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid)
  • Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Blue and White)
  • Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beiteinu)
  • Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope)
  • Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli (Labor)
  • Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz)
  • Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina)
  • Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana (Yamina)
  • Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton (New Hope)
  • Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel (New Hope)
  • Minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee Eli Avidar (Yisrael Beytenu)
  • Culture Minister Karine Elharrar (Yesh Atid)
  • Economics Minister Orna Barbivai (Yesh Atid)
  • Construction and Housing Minister Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid)
  • Energy Minister Yoel Razvozov (Yesh Atid)
  • Social Equality Minister Merav Cohen (Yesh Atid)
  • Minister of Immigrant Absorption Pnina Tamano-Shata (Blue and White)
  • Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper (Blue and White)
  • Agriculture Minister Alon Schuster (Blue and White)
  • Internal Security Minister Omer Barlev (Labor)
  • Diaspora Affairs Minister would be either Gilad Kariv or Emilie Moatti (both Labor)
  • Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej (Meretz)
  • Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg (Meretz)

In addition, Michael Biton (Blue and White,) Ze’ev Elkin (New Hope) and Mickey Levy (Yesh Atid) were expected to also be appointed ministers, with the current portfolios of Jerusalem Affairs, Intelligence, Strategic Affairs and Tourism not yet allocated, although some could be folded into other ministries.

Yesh Atid will appoint Meir Cohen as Speaker of the Knesset, while Yisrael Beytenu’s Oded Forer will head the key Knesset Finance Committee.

Analysts noted that the cabinet would be relatively diverse for Israel, including one-third women, one-third religious Jews and one-third of Sephardi origin.

Meretz MK Issawi Frej at a party conference in Tel Aviv, on January 14, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

It would also include an Arab minister (Frej) and an Ethiopian-origin minister (Tamano-Shata.)

Speculation over the makeup of the government surged Sunday after Bennett announced that he would link up with Lapid to form a coalition, promising a right-leaning unity government that will end over two years of political deadlock and oust Netanyahu, after 12 consecutive years in power.

“The elections have proven there is no right-wing government under Netanyahu. There’s unity or fifth elections,” Bennett said in a nationally televised address, after weeks of vacillating between talks with Lapid and Netanyahu, in which it seemed he could wind up propping either leader.

The announcement confirmed days of rumors that Bennett had opted for a rotational deal with Lapid that will place the right-wing party leader in the prime minister’s chair for the next two years, potentially setting in motion a sea change in Israeli politics that will see Netanyahu shunted from power by his former allies after repeatedly failing to cobble together enough support for his own coalition.

Netanyahu immediately attacked the planned government, trying to play on the concerns of right-wingers in Yamina and New Hope nervous about working with left-wing Labor and Meretz, calling the diverse alliance a “left-wing government” that is “a danger to the security of Israel and a danger to the future of the state.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemns rival Naftali Bennett’s newly declared bid to build a unity government with Yair Lapid that would end his 12-years as prime minister, May 30, 2021. (Screenshot)

“If it does occur, heaven forbid, think about who will be in the security cabinet: Yair Lapid, Horovitz,  Meirav Michaeli, and [Meretz MK] Tamar Zandberg,” he said. “What impact will that have on Israel’s deterrent capability? How will we look to our enemies? What will they say in Iran and Gaza? What will they do in Iran and Gaza? What will they say in the corridors of the administration in Washington?”

“Will Lapid, Zandberg, and company face down Iran?” he asked rhetorically. “They wholeheartedly support that dangerous nuclear agreement. They’ll fight Hamas? They depend on the votes of [Arab MKs Ahmad] Tibi and [Ayman] Odeh. They’ll defend our soldiers in The Hague?… Who’ll protect the settlements…? It’s a joke…”

Bennett, meanwhile, said the new government would be pragmatic, and highlighted the concessions he had already won from the Lapid, a centrist, and the left.

“No one will be asked to give up their ideology [in the planned new coalition], but everyone will have to postpone the realization of some of their dreams. We will focus on what can be done, instead of arguing over what is impossible,” Bennett said.

He repeatedly played up the right-wing bona fides of the nascent coalition, which will also include the hawkish Yisrael Beytenu party, and asked other factions to join in as well.

Yamina party head Naftali Bennett gives a press conference at the Knesset on May 30, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The truth is that this will be a slightly more right-wing government than the current one,” Bennett said, noting that the left-leaning parties had made difficult compromises.

“The left is making not insignificant concessions — giving me, a former head of the Settlers Council and a man of the Land of Israel, the post of prime minister, and my friend Gideon Sa’ar, a firm right-winger, the post of minister of justice.”

“We have not budged from our values. This is not a government that will disengage [from settlements], will not relinquish land, and also won’t be afraid to carry out military operations when needed. The political context won’t stop us.”

The nascent Bennett-Lapid coalition apparently has the support of 61 MKs in the 120-seat Knesset, so even a single defection could deprive it of a majority. And it still needs the confirmed support of the Islamist Ra’am party, which has yet to publicly commit to giving the coalition the backing of its four Knesset members.

Lapid’s mandate to form a government ends at midnight Wednesday. He has so far reached informal coalition agreements with Yisrael Beytenu, Meretz, and Labor, and is hoping to seal deals with Blue and White and New Hope in the next few days, though the coalition would likely only be voted on and sworn in next week. Likud and other parties opposed to the government are planning on using the intervening time to ratchet up pressure on right-wing MKs in a bid to get them to defect and torpedo the coalition before it is sworn in.

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