Same Challenges, New Faces: Who’s Who in Israel’s New Government

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by Elizabeth Blade

On Sunday, the Israeli Parliament was sworn in, effectively ending Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year tenure at the helm of the country. While not all of the ministerial posts have been handed out, the essential portfolios are already known.

Benjamin Netanyahu has been in office for 12 consecutive years, but on Sunday he vacated his post after the Knesset cast a vote of confidence in favour of Naftali Bennett, the head of the party Yamina.

Bennett will govern Israel until September 2023 and then will become the country’s interior minister. The chairman of the party Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid, will take his place and remain there until 2025.

The Bennett-Lapid coalition will be comprised of 28 ministers, six less than Netanyahu’s government. Although not all of the ministerial portfolios have been filled yet, it’s already known who will be occupying the main seats. Sputnik has compiled a list to help you navigate the labyrinth of the new Israeli government.

The Ministry of Defence

Arguably the most important ministerial position in the Cabinet, and one with a budget of some $22 billion, will remain in the hands of Benny Gantz, who oversaw the nation’s recent “Operation Guardian of the Walls” that started on 10 May, following a barrage of rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israeli towns and cities.

Although the operation ended after eleven days and despite excessive efforts by Egyptian mediators, a truce has not been reached yet, this is why Gantz will remain at the helm of the ministry as indirect talks with Hamas are still on the table.

Aside from the threat emanating from the Gaza Strip, the Defence Ministry will also need to be prepared for potential challenges in the north from Iran and Hezbollah, as well as various extremist groups in Syria.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs

After years of neglect, miserable funding and poor management, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) was given to Gabi Ashkenazi under the coalition agreement between Netanyahu and Gantz.

During his one year in office, Ashkenazi managed to secure better funding for the ministry, boosting its budget by $15 million.

He also revamped the image of the MFA, helping to win back the responsibilities it had lost and improved its cooperation with other governmental bodies and ministries.

Now, with a new government assuming office, the ministry may witness some instability primarily because it will be split between two individuals. Yair Lapid will be in charge until September 2023 and then, when he becomes PM, it will pass to Gideon Saar, the head of the party New Hope.

Both are considered seasoned politicians but handling a ministry, where spirits have been low will not be an easy task. Neither will it be easy to solve the multiple problems Israel’s foreign policy is currently facing.

To start off, the new foreign minister will need to work hard to improve Israel’s image across the globe. The latter was dealt a serious blow following the recent military campaign in Gaza that claimed the lives of more than 250 Palestinians.

The minister will need to address and tackle the issue of anti-Semitism that has been rearing its head around the world. And will need to work closely with various global players to make sure that the shaping nuclear deal between the US and Iran will not harm Israel’s interests.

The Ministry of Finance

According to the coalition agreement, the ministry responsible for the nation’s economic policy and the country’s nearly $130 billion budget will be in the hands of Avigdor Lieberman, a former Israeli defence minister and head of the party Yisrael Beitenu.

But that fact has already stirred criticism among Israel’s liberal circles and the press, who have accused Lieberman of corruption on a number of occasions.

In 2007, for example, it was reported that his daughter Michal, at the time only 21 years of age and already in charge of a profitable company, had earned $2.5 million; whereas it was recently made public that one of Lieberman’s sons, Kobi, was made director of a leading company, probably due to his father’s ties with the Jewish-Austrian billionaire Martin Schlaff.

At present, the Israeli media is saying that putting Lieberman in charge of such an important governmental body is the equivalent of letting a fox guard a henhouse.

The Ministry of the Interior

Entries to Israel, visas, permits, and immigration will now be under the purview of the hawkish Ayelet Shaked, a former minister of justice known for her hard-line approach to the Palestinian issue and this means that Palestinians wanting to enter Israel for business, religious, or family matters might end up facing a significant ordeal.

The Ministry of the Interior is also responsible for granting or revoking Israeli citizenship and in the past Shaked has been vocal in expressing her views against Palestinians reportedly involved in terror activity against the Jewish state. Now, with her in office, she might want to push through draconian legislation, although it will likely be blocked by the coalition’s liberals.

The Ministry of Justice

Netanyahu was fighting to make sure this ministerial position stayed in the hands of his party Likud or its allies. Critics slammed him for that, saying the aim was to prevent judicial interference in political decisions. They also said he was trying to evade trial and that the position was needed to guarantee that anti-Netanyahu legislation was not passed.

Now, the former PM will have cause for concern, as starting Monday this governmental body will be in the hands of a Likud defector and a personal rival, Gideon Saar.

Saar, a hawk himself, will likely be interested in limiting the role of the judiciary in Israel’s political system. Yet, he will also probably make certain that the trial of his former boss continues and any laws hampering that process will not likely reach the desks of Israeli parliamentarians.

Starting Monday, all eyes will be on the new Knesset. Supporters will want to see a change and will demand Israel take a different course from the one under Netanyahu. The opposition will be scrutinising every move the ministers make, meaning the new lawmakers will have very little room for error.

Sputnik

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