New Knesset Speaker elected as Netanyahu has less than a week to form government

MK Yariv Levin of the Likud was elected last week, Dec. 14, as the new Speaker of the Knesset, replacing outgoing Speaker Miki Levy of Yesh Atid. The discussion preceding the vote was stormy as the members of the coalition shouted at the opposition “you lost, sit quietly.” Before the preceding, far-right MK Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Jewish Power party and MK Walid Taha of the Islamic United Arab List (UAL/Ra’am) clashed outside the Internal Affairs Committee.

Yesh Atid’s candidate, MK Meirav Ben Ari, won 45 votes, while Hadash-Ta’al list Chairman Ayman Odeh, who also ran for the position, won the five votes of his faction. Ra’am, led by MK Mansour Abbas, abstained from the vote, perhaps signaling its desire to cooperate with the emerging far-right government.

Upon his election, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin said “I have every hope that the 25th Knesset will fulfill its days and a stable government will be established in Israel.”

Immediately after, the outgoing government began to attack Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming government. Prime Minister Yair Lapid attacked Netanyahu for establishing a far-right government, calling it a “halachic [a collective body of Jewish religious laws] government” that would prevent public transportation and electricity stations from operating on the weekends. Netanyahu rejected Lapid’s claims, saying “I want to reassure you – there is and will be electricity on Shabbat, bathing beaches for everyone, we will maintain the status quo. There will not be a halachic state here, there will be a state where we take care of all the citizens of Israel without exception.”

Earlier, the opposition managed to postpone the vote on the election of the chairman by a day, hindering the Likud’s legislative agenda which it wishes to pass before the swearing in of the new government. Netanyahu has one more week left until the mandate expires.

The original mandate period that Netanyahu received was supposed to end on Sunday, Dec. 18, but after failing to form a government in the 28 days he had, Netanyahu received a ten-day extension from the president, which will expire on December 21.

In the Likud party, there is fear that Speaker Levin, who was sworn in as a temporary Speaker of the Knesset, will not agree to resign and remain in the position even after the government is sworn in, despite expressing his desire to be the Justice Minister.

Next on Netanyahu’s agenda is a dangerous series of legislative proposals. First is an amendment to the Basic Law of the Government, known as the “Deri Law,” that will allow those convicted of defamation to serve as a minister. The second is an expansion of powers for incoming Minister of Public Security Itamar Ben-Gvir, giving him broad powers over security affairs in Israel and the occupied West Bank. The third is a law that would prevent the split of a faction with only four members of the Knesset, increasing the Netanyahu-led government’s stability.

Meanwhile, in the opposition, MK Ze’ev Elkin of the new Hope party and MK Ahmad Tibi of Hadash-Ta’al met in order to reach an understanding and coordinate the opposition’s moves towards the legislation, including the distribution of roles in the Knesset, and to try to delay the coalition’s legislation as much as possible.

Ben-Gvir wants to control the government

Weeks after the agreement their agreement, Ben Gvir presented Netanyahu with an ultimatum: a veto in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation or he will tear up the agreement, according to the report by Channel 13.

According to the report, Ben-Gvir aims to “make sure that if his laws are not promoted then he can ‘stab’ others’ laws.” This dangerous move includes an expansion of the powers that will be given to Ben-Gvir, who aspires to enthrone himself over the government. Likud members are furious over Ben-Gvir’s demands, saying “it is impossible to behave like this, Ben-Gvir and his friends should start growing up and understand that with this behavior we will… get caught in real distress in the formation of the government.”

Division of portfolios among Religious Zionism and United Torah Judaism

Following the agreement between his party and the Likud, Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich decided that MK Orit Malka Strook would serve as Minister of National Tasks and MK Ofir Sofer would serve as Ministry of Aliyah and Integration. An agreement has already been reached on the appointment of Smotrich as Minister of Finance, rotating positions with Health Minister and Shas leader Aryeh Deri who will also the Internal Affairs portfolio.

There is still a dispute between the Likud and its coalition parties and the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party, which opposes the conscription law. Despite the desire to avoid a crisis with the Likud before the formation of the government, some members of UTJ want the outline of the law and the mechanism that exempts Yeshiva students from conscription to be detailed in full in the coalition agreement.

As expected, UTJ will receive the Chair position in the Finance Committee and three other Knesset committees, as well as the portfolios for the Ministry of Construction and Housing, Ministry of Transportation, Jerusalem Affairs, and deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.

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