Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu with Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri, September 12, 2022.

It appears that after acquiescing for the first time in his career as prime minister to head a coalition where his Likud party marks the left, Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu is doing his best to diminish the power of his biggest coalition partner, Religious Zionism/Otzma Yehudit.

News12’s Amit Segal reported Saturday night that Netanyahu asked Shas Chairman Aryeh Deri to “demand” the Finance portfolio, to block Religious Zionism Chairman Bezalel Smotrich from this top post. During the campaign, Smotrich said he wanted his party to command senior posts, including, Defense, Finance, or Justice.
Netanyahu has already stated that Defense and Justice will stay in his party, and he may be trying to block Smotrich’s path to Finance, to diminish its influence on his government.

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These issues will probably become clearer and more public starting Sunday, with the start of the coalition negotiations.

Meanwhile, Aryeh Deri was caught on camera Saturday night telling the Sephardi Chief rabbi Yitzchak Yosef: “There’s a big war over the [Ministry of Religious services], may God have mercy.” Now, Deri, much like Smotrich, does not “get caught” or “leaked” unless he wanted to be, and so, this “aside” to the chief rabbi was likely a shot across the bow of the national-religious partners.

Religious Zionism/Otzma Yehudit ran as a tactical list and ended up with 7 mandates each, and Netanyahu is likely to exploit this using divide-and-conquer methods. In the past, Netanyahu paid dearly for attempting to outmaneuver his coalition partners when, in 2013, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett formed their “brotherly pact,” insisting that the PM couldn’t have one of them unless he also accepted the other. This went back and forth for days, with Bibi trying to lure each one of them away, and in the end, he paid a prime price for both.

Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir are coming to the negotiations table even more resolute than Lapid and Bennett since they are so much closer ideologically. But Bibi is a world-class manipulator who knows his opponents’ weaknesses and desires, and his two opponents better be ready to play hardball and willing to walk away to get what they deserve.

Incidentally, this reporter has been kvelling over the possibility that Ben Gvir would become Israel’s next internal security minister, and he wants the job, but not as it exists today when funding to the various agencies––police, prisons, and the Shin Bet––is provided separately by the finance ministry. Ben Gvir wants to be the one dispensing the funds, and he demands an additional NIS 6 billion ($1.7 billion).

Meanwhile, we should expect an agreement between the Haredim and Religious Zionists on the Override Clause that would require a 61-vote majority to overcome a Supreme Court annulment of a Knesset legislation. Smotrich et al want the clause to support several moves to secure and expand Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria, including legitimizing the outposts and eliminating the ban on settlements in northern Samaria. The Haredim need this clause to fight the Supreme Court’s push for a universal IDF draft.

Incidentally, according to MK Simcha Rothman, the override clause will recognize the authority of the Supreme Court in case a panel of all 15 justices votes unanimously to revoke a law. But a simple majority will not do.

And while Netanyahu is dealing with his coalition partners, his own party members have been pushing for their piece of the pie. Yisrael Katz would like to become finance minister again, the same position he held in the last Netanyahu government. In the past, Katz also served as foreign and transport minister.

David Amsalem has already stated that he would not join the coalition unless he gets the Justice portfolio. David Bitan is also interested in a senior post. Danny Danon wants to be the Speaker of the Knesset and is not willing to compromise.

In short, Likud members, who were disciplined to a fault during the campaign, now demand their rewards. Expect a major clash between former IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Yoav Gallant and former Shin Bet Chief Avi Dichter over who becomes the next defense minister.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.