At least I think so. The coalition agreement is due to be signed later today, so barring any last-minute surprises (which one can never rule out in Israel) we will have a ruling coalition in place. In the end the shape of the new coalition is more or less as we expected after the elections nearly 2 months ago, so the length of time that we have had to endure during the ridiculous
blackmail extortion negotiations between the parties seems absurd, but that is the face of Israeli democracy today: flawed and inefficient.
A spokeswoman for the Likud party confirmed Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reached a deal to form a new coalition government.
“There is a government,” the spokeswoman, Noga Katz, said. She said Netanyahu’s Likud-Beiteinu list would be allied with the centrist Yesh Atid and far-right Habayit Hayehudi parties, as well as with a smaller faction led by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Coalition agreement signing ceremonies were expected later in the day, with a new government likely to take office next week before a visit by US President Barack Obama.
Two interesting new proposals, one concerning the enlistment of haredim into the army and into the workforce, and one concerning much-needed electoral reform, have already been put forward which gives cause for some optimism:
Netanyahu accepted Lapid’s demand for a smaller government that will include no more than 22 ministers. The sides also agreed to advance legislation for equal share of the national burden. The ultra-Orthodox parties, including Shas, will sit in the opposition.The proposal for an equal sharing of the burden, which will replace the expired “Tal Law,” will determine that military or civil service is mandatory for all Israeli citizens over the age of 18, but will also stress the importance of Torah studies in the State of Israel.
Under the proposal, compulsory army service for men will be shortened from three to two years. Soldiers who continue to a third year will receive minimum wage and a grant for future academic studies.
The agreed-upon outline for equal share of the national burden also states that each year some 1,800 “diligent” yeshiva students will be eligible to receive a special grant, but yeshiva students between the ages of 21 and 26 who will discontinue their studies after receiving an exemption from army service will be fined.
Ultra-Orthodox recruits aged 21 and under will have the option of deferring their army service. They will later be divided into three categories: Those who serve in the army; those who will perform national service and those who are classified as “persistent” yeshiva students.
The army will also ask to increase the number of Arab Israelis in the National Service program.
A ministerial committee headed by Habayit Hayehudi is expected to approve the proposal within 45 days.
The coalition agreement further determines that the so-called “core subjects,” including math, science and English, will be taught in all Israeli schools within two-and-a-half years. The government will also implement economic measures aimed at encouraging haredim to join the workforce.
The deal also calls for enacting laws that will change the system of government. These laws will state the following:
- The 34th government will consist of 18 ministers and four deputy ministers [that's already been invalidated since there will be 22 ministers -Ed.]
- There will be no ministers-without portfolio
- The electoral threshold will be raised from 2% to 4%
- Only a majority of 65 MKs will be able to topple the government
- MKs who will split from their factions will not be eligible for funds allocated to political parties
Yesh Atid officials said the deal also calls for the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians and increasing financial support to Holocaust survivors.
Arutz Sheva provides us with more details on “The New Deal” about the enlistment of yeshiva students.
The Jerusalem Post also reports on the negotiations and the final shape of the coalition, particularly the mediation role played by Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennet:
Likud Beytenu, Bayit Yehudi and Yesh Atid reached the final stages of coalition talks Wednesday night, with Bennett negotiating to break the impasse between Netanyahu and Lapid. It has taken since the January 22 elections, and an extension from President Shimon Peres, to reach this stage, after Netanyahu found himself negotiating with two leaders whose combined 31 Knesset seats match those of his own joint Likud and Yisrael Beytenu faction.
Caught in a deadlock at various points during the negotiations, Netanyahu had reportedly threatened to give up on Lapid and Bennett and turn to the ultra-Orthodox, who ultimately found themselves on the outside of the government for the first time in years.
The Yesh Atid chief will be Finance Minister, as expected, and the party’s one-time candidates for the Interior Ministry, Meir Cohen and Yael German, will be Welfare Minister and Health Minister, respectively. Ya’akov Peri will become Science Minister and Ofer Shelach, a former military reporter, will take on the role of Deputy Defense Minister. The Foreign Ministry will apparently remain in the hands of Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman, who stepped down due to his ongoing corruption trial. The post has been held for him until his case is decided.
Bennett will be Vice Premier and have three portfolios. He will be the Economy and Trade Minister, a new name for the Industry, Trade and Labor portfolio, and have authority over the Diaspora and Jerusalem Ministry as well as an expanded Religious Services Ministry that includes conversion, the chief rabbinate and supervision of yeshivas. Bayit Yehudi MK Eli Ben Dahan will be Deputy Religious Services Ministry with all of the responsibilities of a minister.
Bayit Yehudi will also take control of the prestigious Knesset Finance Committee. Meanwhile, the agreement with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua will remain the same: the party will have two ministers – Livni at Justice and Amir Peretz at Environmental Protection.
Here’s a Who’s Who of the new government with my own occasional opinions in blue:
Binyamin Netanyahu – prime minister and temporary foreign minister
Moshe Ya’alon – defense minister -
Excellent news. He is at least as qualified as Ehud Barak and is much more sympathetic to the right and the settlements.
Gideon Sa’ar – interior minister
Also good news. He did a very good job as Education Minister. Hopefully he can bring the same skills to Interior.
Yair Shamir – agriculture minister
I hope he takes after his father Yitzchak Shamir, the former Prime Minister, famed for his intransigence in the face of foreign pressure.
Yitzhak Aharonovitch – public security minister
Sofa Landver – immigration absorption minister
Uzi Landau – tourism minister
I would have liked to see him in a more military or scientific role but I’m delighted he’s in the government at all.
Israel Katz – transportation minister
Gilad Erdan, Silvan Shalom, Yuval Steinitz and Limor Livnat are expected to divide the Ministries of Communications, Infrastructure, Strategic Affairs and Home Front Defense
Expected deputy ministers: deputy education minister, deputy health minister
Yuli Edelstein – Knesset speaker
Not a bad choice but why did Netanyahu sideline the popular Ruby Rivlin?
Avigdor Liberman – Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chair man, foreign minister if exonerated in corruption trial
Tzachi Hanegbi – coalition chairman
Yair Lapid – finance minister
Ten years ago Lapid said he knew nothing about economics. I hope he’s educated himself in the meantime or at least surrounds himself with excellent advisers in order to keep Israel afloat and ahead during the global recession. It would be terrible if he undid all the good work done by former Treasury Minister Yuval Steinitz and Stanley Fisher at Bank of Israel.
Shai Piron – education minister
He has an excellent reputation as someone who took over failing schools and turned them around. I hope he can continue the good work done by Gideon Saar and turn around Israel’s struggling education system. As a Rabbi as well, he will hopefully ensure that the national syllabus will include more Jewish education for all schools, not just the religious schools.
Meir Cohen – welfare and social services minister
Yael German – health minister
Yaakov Peri – science minister
Ofer Shelah – deputy defense minister
Naftali Bennett – economics and trade minister (formerly Industry, trade and labor), with responsibility for the Religious Services Ministry and the Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry
This is really good news on so many levels. Firstly, as a very successful businessman, Bennett understands the importance of these fields and how they work. It’s even better news that the Religious Services Ministry will be in the hands of Bayit Yehudi. The haredim have ruled that roost for too long and made the whole religious establishment inimical to both secular and national religious Israelis. I’m sure we all look forward to a much more user-friendly religious establishment in Israel.
Uri Ariel – construction and housing, including the Israel Lands Authority.
It’s great news that this important ministry will be in the hands of Bayit Yehudi in order to encourage more building in Judea and Samaria.
Uri Orbach – pensioners affairs
Eliahu Ben-Dahan – deputy religious services minister, with expanded responsibilities, including conversion, the Chief Rabbinate and yeshivas.
The right man for the job in my opinion. He has great experience as the director of the Rabbinical Courts. I hope he can manage to reform them and bring them into the 21st century regarding work ethics and their attitudes towards women.
Nissan Slomiansky and Ayelet Shaked – rotation for head of the Knesset Finance Committee
Again, good news for Bayit Yehudi that this very important committee is out of the hands of the haredim for the first time in decades.
Tzipi Livni – justice minister
I’m not one bit happy about this appointment. In fact I’m very unhappy about Livni’s party being included in the coalition at all. She’s one of the people of whom it could be said that she lost the election. How democratic is it that she got to be in the coalition at all?
Amir Peretz – environmental protection minister
He was useless as Defense Minister in the Gaza War but he was head of the Histadrut so he understands government. Hopefully the Environment Ministry will benefit from his particular skills.
The new government sounds pretty good under the circumstances. I just wish we could have gotten there sooner and without so many dramatics along the way.
I wish them – and us! – a lot of luck and much success, with the help of G-d in running this complicated, crazy and beloved country.