Ron Dermer meets Netanyahu, will only join gov’t if made foreign minister — report

10 senior Likud members vying for high-ranking jobs with just six top ministries still free after coalition agreements with far-right, religious partners, says Israeli TV

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with Israel's Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, at the president's guest house, in Washington, DC, February 14, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with Israel's Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, at the president's guest house, in Washington, DC, February 14, 2017. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly met this week with Ron Dermer, a close confidant and a former Israeli ambassador to the US, to continue talks on bringing Dermer into the government in a top role.

Netanyahu is said to have been considering appointing Dermer as foreign minister, an idea that has been contested by senior Likud members who, in recent weeks, have seen a number of key cabinet portfolios handed over to the Likud’s far-right and ultra-Orthodox coalition partners as the Likud leader has tried to cobble together a coalition. As the number of top jobs dwindled for lawmakers within his own party, Netanyahu has faced tough criticism for such decisions.

Netanyahu announced Wednesday that he has finally come to agreements with his coalition partners to form Israel’s 37th government. The Likud leader has yet to finalize coalition agreements with any of his party’s intended partners, however. Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin will announce the development during Monday’s legislative session. Netanyahu will then have until January 2 to swear in his coalition.

On Friday, Channel 12 reported that Dermer and Netanyahu met a day prior and that the ex-envoy expressed a strong willingness to be part of the incoming government but only in the position of foreign minister. The unsourced report also said Netanyahu was pitched the idea of appointing two foreign ministers, Dermer and a senior member of the Likud, but this move was deemed unlikely.

The report said Netanyahu sees Dermer as very closely aligned with his right-wing ideology and a future part of the Likud.

Earlier this month, the TV news network reported that Netanyahu was weighing a possible rotation at the Foreign Ministry between Dermer and a Likud party loyalist to appease party members.

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu informs President Isaac Herzog that he has managed to form a government, in a phone call shortly before a midnight deadline, December 21, 2022 (Likud spokesperson)

According to the Channel 12 report Friday, some 10 senior Likud members are now in the race to lead the top remaining ministries in the next coalition: the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry, which is expected to go to Likud MK Yoav Gallant, the Justice Ministry, the Transportation Ministry, and a divvied-up Education Ministry.

The report said Netanyahu was likely to finalize the appointments of senior members of his party this coming week.

Vying for the remaining posts are Likud MKs Miri Regev, Amir Ohana, David Amsalem, Danny Danon, Avi Dichter, Israel Katz, Nir Barkat, Eli Cohen, and Ofir Akunis. Regev has been reported to be heading to the Education Ministry, with an extra gig as head of the Ministerial Committee for Symbols and Ceremonies, a position she previously held. Ohana and Katz have been floated as possible candidates for the Foreign Ministry.

Separately, the Likud has coalition agreements with Otzma Yehudit that will see far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir appointed national security minister with an expanded portfolio that covers the national police force and the Border Police’s West Bank division; Religious Zionism far-right leader Bezalel Smotrich will become finance minister and also, as a second minister in the Defense Ministry, be empowered with far-reaching powers over civil policy in the West Bank; and Avi Maoz, of the Noam party, which espouses homophobic views and policies, 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.

Maoz’s Noam ran on an anti-LGBTQ, anti-pluralist agenda, and Maoz has decried female enlistment in the IDF.

Noam party leader Avi Maoz at a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He is also set to head a Prime Minister’s Office unit in charge of Israel’s “Jewish national identity.”

Ultra-Orthodox coalition partner Shas will retake control of the Religious Services Ministry, which will play a role in appointing the state’s next chief rabbis, as well as give it a chance to quickly roll back a rabbinic court appointment reform program implemented by former minister and liberal Orthodox Jew Matan Kahana. The party will also gain control over municipal community centers. This move is both in line with the party’s focus on serving underprivileged and rural populations, as well as providing a vehicle to implement traditional Jewish and religious programming in community centers, according to Shas party sources.

United Torah Judaism, led by Knesset newcomer Yitzhak Goldknopf, has made a host of demands to firm up Orthodox control over religious matters and exert religious oversight on secular matters.

Various proposals have included stopping energy generation on Shabbat and expanding gender-segregated beaches, both of which Netanyahu has publicly nixed; increasing stipends for religious study; including a Chief Rabbinate representative on any panel weighing permits for work on Shabbat; forming and funding bodies to provide answers to the public on questions of Jewish law; allowing hospitals to ban hametz, or leavened wheat products, on Passover; requiring more religious studies in the state’s secular school system; and weighing the closure of the new Reform department in the Diaspora Affairs Ministry.

While details of their full coalition agreements are not yet available, every party in Netanyahu’s hardline coalition has signed an annex or letter with Likud detailing government appointments.

The coalition agreements do not need to be finalized and submitted to the Knesset until 24 hours before the swearing-in ceremony.

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