New government set to be sworn in very late Thursday night; Netanyahu offers Foreign Ministry to Miri Regev
By GIL HOFFMAN – The Jerusalem Post
Israel will finally have a new government late Thursday night ending nearly 18 months of political chaos after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formally wrote President Reuven Rivlin and outgoing Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz on Wednesday night informing them that he had built a governing coalition.
A special session of the Knesset plenum will start at 6pm on Thursday evening. There will be a vote for Netanyahu’s confidant, outgoing Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, as the new Knesset speaker at 10pm, 48 hours after Gantz’s resignation will take effect.
Coalition agreements with the parties that will be in the government, which had to be submitted to the Knesset 24 hours before the confidence were sent late Wednesday night.
The parties that will be in the coalition are Likud, Blue and White, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Labor, Derech Eretz and Gesher.
Both Netanyahu and Gantz decided to wait with most of their ministerial appointments until Thursday, due in part to their meetings on Wednesday with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. But they continued to meet with candidates for various portfolios.
A source very close to Netanyahu confirmed reports that he offered the Foreign Ministry in the second half of the term to outgoing Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, despite her poor knowledge of English. The source said that Netanyahu would handle key diplomatic relations as vice prime minister under Gantz, so he needed someone completely loyal to him to be foreign minister.
A spokesman for outgoing Communications Minister David Amsalem denied reports that Netanyahu had asked him to be the next ambassador in London. Amsalem not only speaks English poorly, he has made repeated statements criticizing Diaspora Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.
Netanyahu will hold a marathon of meetings with candidates for ministerial posts. Sources close to Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar, who challenged Netanyahu for the Likud leadership, said he had not been invited to meet with the prime minister even though he was fifth on the Likud list.
In a surprise move, Shas appointed Yaakov Avitan, head of Shas party in Ashkelon and a deputy mayor in that city, as the new religious services minister, and not one of its MKs.
Avitan, 50, has rabbinical ordination, has served as the municipal chief rabbi of the Hof Ashkelon district, was elected as a member of the Ashkelon municipal council in 2013, and has served as deputy mayor of Ashkelon since 2018.
Following weeks of political battles, Netanyahu failed to reach an agreement with Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday that would have allowed Bennett’s Yamina party to enter Netanyahu’s coalition.
The two men had agreed to meet on Wednesday, but due to scheduling conflicts spoke only over the phone. Netanyahu upset Bennett by not improving his offer to Yamina, which the Likud said includes the Education and Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage portfolios, as well as a deputy minister in charge of issues relating to the religious-Zionist community and the chairmanship of a Knesset committee.
“The decision is Netanyahu’s,” Bennett tweeted. “As I have said from the start, we are only interested in entering a government where we would have influence, and influence comes from the issues for which we would be responsible. If the prime minister wants us in positions of influence, we would be happy to enter, but if he wants us weak and on the fringes, we would rather be in the opposition.”
Likud responded that Netanyahu had improved his offer to Bennett, but that he cared only about cabinet posts and not about ideology. Yamina denied that the offer had been improved.
Throughout the negotiation process Netanyahu and Bennett harshly criticized each other, appearing to have been purposely burning bridges.
Yet Netanyahu made a point of not giving out the portfolios he offered Yamina to other ministers in order to keep open the possibility that the right-wing party could join the coalition.
Netanyahu met with outgoing Education Minister Rafi Peretz of Yamina at length on Wednesday, raising speculation that he could join the coalition on his own.
The Yesha Council on Wednesday reiterated its call for Netanyahu and Bennett to patch up the differences between them so that the Yamina party could enter the government.
It said it placed “extreme value” on Yamina’s partnership in a government that would take the historic step of applying sovereignty to the settlements.
Tovah Lazaroff and Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.