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‘Change government’ agenda: Electoral reform, budget and Jerusalem building boom

The so-called “change government” aims to advance electoral reform and introduce term limits for the prime minister, swiftly pass a state budget for the first time in two years, and considerably ramp up construction in Jerusalem, according to the emerging coalition’s guiding principles.

Its coalition agreements between the parties, meanwhile, reportedly will significantly boost funding for Arab communities, advance some judicial reforms, and seek to prevent Prime Minister-designate Naftali Bennett from bolting the government.

The Knesset is set to hold a vote of confidence in the new government by June 14, with the parties in the prospective coalition holding a razor-thin majority of 61 of the 120 votes. If confirmed, the unlikely alliance of right-wing, left-wing, centrist, and an Islamist party would remove Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from power, to be replaced by Yamina’s Bennett.

The document outlining the government agenda was publicized by Hebrew media on Monday night. It does not address specific religion-state issues and refers only vaguely to the peace process. The parties in the so-called “change bloc” are all backing the terms laid out in the document, according to Channel 12.

According to the document, the eight parties in the prospective coalition have agreed to introduce a term limit for prime ministers, capping it at two terms or eight years, whichever is longer.

But a clause in the agreement pledging to advance a law banning a prime minister who is under criminal indictment from serving or running has been struck from the draft, Channel 12 said.

Despite the explicit wording of the document on the term limits, Channel 12 reported that the coalition parties aim to advance a law preventing a two-term prime minister from running again for another four years, after which he or she can seek office again.

During this four-year cooling-off period, the former prime minister will also be blocked from running for Knesset, it said.

This planned legislation was apparently aimed at stymieing Israel’s longest-serving leader, Netanyahu, who has served as premier for the past 12 years, and in 1996-1999, and is currently on trial in three corruption cases.

It was unclear whether such a law could apply retroactively to hamstring Netanyahu.

  • Yamina later Monday denied that the emerging government’s guidelines or coalition deals would prevent Netanyahu from running in Knesset elections in the future.

The government will also consider other electoral reforms following four elections in two years, including a shift to a regional voting system, holding party primaries on the day of general elections and permitting absentee voting for Israelis abroad.

The coalition has also agreed to “significantly advance construction in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, turning it into a dynamic and innovative metropolis,” the document said, without differentiating between west Jerusalem and East Jerusalem.

“The government will work to strengthen Israel’s national security and safeguard the security of all Israeli citizens, alongside its constant pursuit of peace,” it said.

Channel 12 said a clause, appearing in previous drafts, which pledged not to take any unilateral steps that could sabotage peace, was excised from the later version.

The government pledged to quickly pass a state budget, which will include funding for two new hospitals, in the Negev and Galilee, a new airport and an underground metro. Israel last approved a state budget in 2019, due to the two-year political deadlock.

“The government will work to mend the rifts between the various parts of Israeli society and fortify Israel’s foundations as a Jewish and democratic state, in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, and will advance various plans that aim to bring Israel out of the economic crisis into which it has plunged, along with the entire world,” the document said.

The coalition will seek to crack down on violence in the Arab community; advance reforms requiring all Israeli students to learn “core” subjects, namely math and English; and back the bill regulating the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox youth into the IDF that was drafted by the Defense Ministry when Avigdor Liberman was at its helm.

A special panel of the prime minister and defense minister, however, will consider alternatives to the Haredi national service law.

The would-be government also vowed to advance reforms to boost the rights of suspects in the criminal justice system, and to create a committee to weigh the advancement of a quasi-constitutional Basic Law on legislation.

On religion and state, the document said:

“The sides agree to advance issues related to religion and state in which there is wide public support,” without elaboration.

Direct references to conversion, the Western Wall pluralistic platform, public transportation, and the opening of supermarkets on Shabbat, civil unions, and other issues were removed from the final document, Channel 12 said.

The government guidelines were not immediately confirmed by the political parties.

Blocking Bennett from joining other coalition; breaking up Likud?
In addition, none of the coalition agreements reached by the parties last week has yet been officially released for public review. The deals also have yet to be signed, according to Yamina.

The right-wing party on Monday night said it would sign an overarching coalition agreement with Yesh Atid, with all the other parties’ deals inked directly with Yesh Atid with Yamina’s terms appearing as an appendix. The Yamina-Yesh Atid agreements will serve as an umbrella deal and will be binding for all the parties, Bennett’s party said.

Channel 12 on Monday night publicized what it said were the coalition agreements, which include a stipulation that Bennett will be banned from taking on any other government role if the coalition is dispersed in a no-confidence vote.

Such a commitment likely would not be binding unless legislated by the Knesset.

The agreements also envision passing a law that would reduce the number of lawmakers required to break up a political party to four — a move aimed at dismantling Netanyahu’s Likud and bringing additional right-wing lawmakers into the government, replacing the four-seat Ra’am, Channel 12 reported.

The new government will include 28 ministers and six deputy ministers, making it one of the largest-ever cabinets, though smaller than the previous government.

In terms of top ministerial positions, under the emerging coalition agreements, Lapid will serve as foreign minister in the first two years of the government, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz will remain defense minister, and the treasury will be held by Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman. New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar will be justice minister, while Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked will be interior minister. Labor’s Merav Michaeli received the transportation portfolio and her fellow party member Omer Barlev will be public security minister. Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz will be appointed health minister, while fellow party member Tamar Zandberg will be environmental protection minister.

According to the terms of the agreements, no other parties will be permitted to join the coalition without the permission of Liberman, Michaeli and Horowitz, Channel 12 said.

The Yamina party, however, on Monday night said the future inclusion of other parties would be decided by Bennett and Lapid.

The network noted that some of the agreements were directly contradictory, promising Meretz and Yisrael Beytenu it would recognize gay marriage and civil unions, and cancel the law banning supermarkets from operating on Shabbat, alongside Yamina’s overarching clause stipulating that all parties will vote against proposals that represent a change to the religious status quo.

Channel 12 also detailed the coalition agreement with the Islamist Ra’am, which reportedly include a freeze on demolitions of illegal construction for nine months and a pledge by Bennett and Lapid to ask the attorney general to consider retroactively canceling all fines over illegal construction. In addition to funding for the Arab community, NIS 500 million ($154 million) has also been earmarked for special projects to be personally approved by Ra’am’s Mansour Abbas, it said, and the first Arab party to agree to join an Israeli governing coalition will receive a ministerial portfolio within the Prime Minister’s Office.

New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar is poised to be appointed deputy prime minister when Bennnett is premier, to be replaced by Benny Gantz in two years when Lapid becomes prime minister.

Sa’ar has also included his plan to split the role of attorney general into two positions and establish a system of supervision for the maintenance of the West Bank’s Area C into the New Hope-Yesh Atid deal, but the dovish parties reserve the right to oppose these moves.

Blue and White has also demanded that the establishment of a commission of inquiry into the Meron disaster, in which 45 people were crushed to death in April, be the new government’s first order of business.

Yamina on Monday did not confirm the details of the agreements, but said power-sharing between the blocs would be upheld in the plenum and Knesset committees. It said the power-sharing agreements include the same number of ministers from both blocs in the high-level security cabinet.

Netanyahu’s Likud on Monday night condemned the emerging coalition deals.

“Bennett, who tricked his voters and moved ballots from right to left only to appoint himself prime minister with six seats, wants to now cancel the votes of millions of citizens and get rid of the right’s strong leader through dictatorial laws that are common practice only in Iran, Syria, and North Korea,” said Likud.

“Bennett did everything in his power to conceal the agreement with Ra’am — a shocking agreement involving the sale of the Negev to the Islamic Movement, and the chairmanship of the Knesset’s Interior Committee to Mansour Abbas,” it continued.

Likud has also negotiated with Ra’am.

“Naftali Bennett has completely lost his moral sense, doesn’t stop at red on his way to be an illegitimate prime minister with six [Knesset] seats,” the far-right Religious Zionism party said in a statement following the reports on the coalition deals.

The party also urged right-wing MKs in the prospective coalition to vote against the government, thwarting its establishment.

Source: TOI