Israeli unity government sidelines pro-settler party

Israel's impending unity government leaves out pro-settler Yamina, which accuses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of using it before pushing it out of the new coalition.

al-monitor Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett looks at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to an Israeli army base in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Nov. 24, 2019. Photo by Atef Safadi/REUTERS.

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unity government, likud, blue and white, benny ganz, benjamin netanyahu, israeli politics

May 14, 2020

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu notified President Reuven Rivlin on May 13 that he has assembled a majority-supported government. Shortly after his notice, Likud and Blue and White together with their other political partners submitted to the Knesset the signed coalition agreements ahead of the swearing-in ceremony of their national unity government (scheduled for tonight, May 14). The coalition also submitted to the Knesset a document outlining its policy principles. A few minutes ago, Likud and Blue and White announced that the swearing-in ceremony will be postponed to Sunday, May 17, because Netanyahu has not finished distributing the ministerial portfolios.

In Israel, coalition agreements make the basis for the establishment of a new government and anchor the support of a majority of Knesset members in the new cabinet to be presented. The agreements must be submitted to the Knesset at least 24 hours before the parliament holds a vote of confidence in the new government.

Judging by the agreements submitted last night, Netanyahu and Benny Gantz’ partnership will be joined by the Labor party, the Gesher and Derech Eretz factions and the ultra-Orthodox parties Yahadut HaTorah and Shas. Israel’s 35th government will be composed of 34 ministers, divided equally between Likud and Blue and White. Each of these parties offered some portfolios to parties it considers political allies. Thus, right-wing Gesher’s Orly Levy-Abekasis will head the newly created Community Empowerment and Advancement Ministry and Yoaz Hendel of the Derech Eretz faction, which used to be part of Blue and White, will be appointed communications minister.

But the most dramatic development concerns one party left outside this large coalition — the national-religious and pro-settler Yamina. Under different names, Yamina has been a longtime ally of Netanyahu and the Likud, as both parties share a similar worldview for expanding West Bank settlements and have gone against the High Court. Throughout the last three elections, Netanyahu did his outmost to guarantee Yamina's support in his leadership of the right-wing/ultra-Orthodox bloc. He even made its leaders sign statements committing to support him unconditionally. In exchange, Netanyahu promised them he would negotiate with Blue and White in the name of the whole right-wing/ultra-Orthodox bloc, and not just for the Likud.

But that was not exactly what happened after the last elections, held in March. Once Netanyahu reached an agreement with Gantz, he no longer needed Yamina's support. Yamina's opposition to President Donald Trump’s peace plan (on the grounds that it includes talks with the Palestinians) turned the party into an obstacle for Netanyahu, rather than an advantage.

Yamina now blames Netanyahu for abandoning it, in offering it only small ministries. However, the party’s former chair Rafi Peretz (head of the Jewish Home faction) decided just a few hours ago to join Netanyahu anyway. Peretz had accepted Netanyahu’s offer to serve as minister for Jerusalem affairs, effectively splitting Yamina.

Associates of Netanyahu and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett have exchanged accusations and barbs over the failed negotiation talks. And while the door to the new government is not yet closed to Yamina, chances are that Bennett and his colleagues will spend the coming days on the opposition benches. That is, unless a last-minute solution is found. The delay in the swearing-in ceremony offers Yamina a narrow window for solutions.

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