Likud and Otzma Yehudit agreed early Friday on the positions the far-right party will hold in the incoming government, with Itamar Ben Gvir to serve in the newly created position of national security minister (an expanded role of public security minister).
The parties signed an annex to a coalition agreement, but not yet the full agreement itself, detailing the positions Otzma Yehudit will receive.
In addition to the National Security Ministry, the party will also have the amended portfolio of the Development of the Negev, Galilee and National Fortitude Ministry (English translation still unofficial); the cultural heritage portfolio, the role of Deputy Minister in the Ministry of Economy; chairmanship of the Knesset Committee for Public Security; and rotating chairmanship of the Special Committee of the Israel Citizens Fund (which oversees the state’s revenues from gas drilling).
The Ministry of the Negev and Galilee will be headed by Otzma Yehudit No. 2 Yitzhak Wasserlauf, and Amichai Eliyahu will take on the portfolio of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage.
The Ministry of Negev and Galilee will receive an annual budget of 2 billion NIS and will also be responsible for carrying out the regulation of new settlements in the West Bank.
MK Almog Cohen will become Deputy Minister of Economy, and former IDF General Zvika Fogel will chair the Committee for Public Security. MK Limor Son Har-Melech will take Otzma Yehudit’s position on the gas royalties committee.
The agreement also includes an agreement to establish a broad national guard and the expansion of the mobilization of reserve troops in the border police.
Ben Gvir’s ministry will have control over the West Bank border police department, which currently falls under the Ministry of Defense with some input from the Ministry of Public Security.
The move means that the far-right party leader will have control over border police troops involved in police riots on the West Bank and the evacuation of outposts.
There will also be an “extended southern law” that will allow the shooting of thieves caught stealing weapons from military bases.
Last year the military up to date its rules of engagement to allow soldiers to more easily open fire on suspected gun thieves and smugglers in an effort to crack down on crime. It was not immediately clear what the effect of the change in the law would be.
In a statement, Ben Gvir said the agreement was “a major step towards signing a full coalition agreement and establishing a full right-wing government” and that it would cooperate with previous agreements with Likud, such as the formal regulation of the flashpoint West Bank Homesh yeshiva and Evyatar outpost.
Earlier this week, two former senior police officials made public warned that expected changes in the relationship between the police force and the Minister of Public Security (as the role is now known), demanded by Ben Gvir, could mean the end of Israeli democracy.
The agreement with Otzma Yehudit signaled Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s slow but steady progress in his efforts to form a coalition after this month’s election, as he moved closer to striking full deals with Otzma Yehudit and the haredi Shas party.
The protracted talks have dampened Netanyahu’s hopes of quickly forming a government after the Nov. 1 election gave the bloc he leads a 64-seat majority in the 120-member Knesset. Talks have hit roadblocks from his partners’ spiraling and sometimes competing demands.
According to Channel 12 news, the parties agreed to split the current Ministry of Development of the Periphery, Negev and Galilee, as Shas insisted on keeping the “periphery” portfolio – referring to often poorer towns outside of Israel’s central population centers. — as it considers such localities a key component of its voter base.
Meanwhile, Shas will receive the Home Office as well as the health and welfare portfolios.
However, Deri’s eligibility to be a minister is currently under major question after the justice minister said his recent conviction could lead to a finding of moral turpitude, which would disqualify him from holding a ministerial post for seven years. Deri received a 12-month suspended sentence last year but resigned from parliament before signing a plea deal that allowed him to avoid a conviction for moral turpitude.
Shas and Likud are reportedly looking into changing the law to allow the Shas leader, who served 22 months in prison from 2000 to 2002 on a bribery conviction, to return as a minister.
Meanwhile, Likud negotiations with Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism appeared to remain at a standstill.
Smotrich has been demanding either the defense ministry or the finance ministry, and Netanyahu appears to have agreed in recent days to give him the latter for at least the first two years of government. Despite the reported progress, talks with Smotrich continued to be mired in mutual recriminations, with religious Zionism claiming Netanyahu had gone back on promises and Likud accusing the far-right party of making exaggerated demands in return for allegiance to the nascent government .
In addition to his first two years in the finance ministry, Smotrich has reportedly claimed the settlement cases and immigrant absorption portfolios, as well as chairing four of 11 coalition-controlled Knesset committees.
Citing sources involved in the negotiations, Haaretz reported that Smotrich also demanded control of the state’s Jewish conversion system.
Reports indicated that Likud had agreed to hand Smotrich control of the Civil Administration – the part of the Defense Ministry that manages Area C in the West Bank, where all Israeli settlers and several thousand Palestinians live under Israeli civil and military control.
But in a lengthy statement released Wednesday after reports of progress in the talks, Religious Zionism accused Likud of constantly leaking “lies” to the press as part of coalition talks and claimed Likud wanted to “tramp and humiliate and sideline” the party .
“Things were not okay” for more than a decade under Netanyahu, the party charged, saying it “promised it will be different this time,” citing a list of its often radical demands on security, the judiciary, settlements and religious issues.
Earlier Wednesday, Likud MK Yariv Levin, the party’s point man on coalition talks, reportedly said in private conversations that Smotrich’s demand to move parts of ministries to his control, such as the Civil Administration, would form “a government within a government,” classified questions as ” delusions”.
Meanwhile, the incoming coalition’s other haredi party, United Torah Judaism, is expected to have the housing ministry and social equality ministry expanded to include the labor department of the finance ministry.
UTJ’s Moses Gafni was named chairman of the Knesset’s temporary finance committee on Monday, and the party also wants control of the labor, health and home affairs and environment committees.
But the Haredi party has also complained of feeling sidelined in the negotiations.
Coalition talks between the parties have dragged on since Netanyahu was given a 28-day mandate to form a government earlier this month amid squabbles over appointments and legislative priorities. The mandate expires on 11 December, but can be extended by two weeks.
Carrie Keller-Lynn and Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.