Judicial appointments the only remaining snag as Lapid set to declare government

Negotiations between the various parties that are to form the so-called switching coalition advanced dramatically overnight on Tuesday, leaving a disagreement over a judicial nomination committee as the only remaining issue.

Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked is demanding that she be given Labor leader Merav Michaeli’s place on the judicial selection committee and has threatened to block the formation of the new government if she does not get the post.

Although Labor officials said they would not take back the committee’s position after they had already finalized their negotiations and agreed to join the government, a compromise was nonetheless awaited, with political sources telling the Hebrew media that the formation of the government would not be prevented the argument.

The party leader of Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid, is therefore likely to announce late Wednesday morning that he has succeeded in cobbling together a government of right-wing, centrist and left-wing parties within the time frame allotted to him by the president.

In overnight talks, Yesh Atid signed his coalition agreement with blue and white and reached agreements “on the outlines of the government and key issues related to strengthening democracy and Israeli society,” the two parties said in a joint statement on Wednesday morning.

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This means that Yamina, New Hope and the Islamist Ra’am are the only parties that have yet to conclude agreements with Yesh Atid.

Earlier negotiations between Yesh Atid and Labor indicated that Michaeli, who is to become Minister of Transport, will be the ministerial representative on the committee. Shaked, a former attorney general who was promised the office of home secretary in the Lapid government, participated in some of the night talks she was reportedly on the heels of after receiving the post.

Sources involved in the negotiations were optimistic that a solution would be found in the form of a pact that would take Michaelmas position, while the coalition would choose a legislature from one of the right-wing parties, despite a majority of centrist and left-wing members, according to Channel 13 News also sit on the committee. Should this not be the case, Michaeli would agree to vacate her post, the report said.

Yamina Mk Ayelet Shaked will hold a press conference in the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 26, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi / Flash90)

The committee will be chaired by the Justice Secretary who will be New Hope Leader Gideon Sa’ar in the new administration. Other members include another cabinet minister, two MKs selected by the Knesset, two members of the Israeli Bar Association, the chief judge and two other judges from the Supreme Court.

Coalition partners Yesh Atid and Yisrael Beytenu have attempted to resolve the issue by suggesting that Shaked appoint Israel’s ambassador to Washington instead – a proposal she completely opposed, the news website Walla reported Tuesday.

While he has until midnight Wednesday, Lapid is reportedly hoping to resolve the issue and announce that he has a deal for a government by 11 a.m.

Lapid wants to suppress his announcement that he can form a government before the end of the Knesset session today, which would force Knesset spokesman Yariv Levin to hold a vote of confidence in the nascent coalition by next Wednesday. If Lapid’s announcement is late in the day, after the session closes, Levin could put a vote for the following Monday, Channel 12 News reported.

The maneuver comes when lawmakers are about to vote on who will be Israel’s next president. You have the choice between the front runner, the current chairman of the Jewish Agency, Isaac Herzog, or the Israel Prize-winning educator Miriam Peretz.

Labor leader Merav Michaeli speaks during a parliamentary group meeting in the Knesset on May 24, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi / Flash90)

If Lapid does not form a government before his term of office expires at midnight on Wednesday, the task will go to the Knesset for 21 days. If no legislature can achieve a ruling majority by the end of this period, the Knesset will be dispersed and a fifth ballot will be called since April 2019.

The chairman of Yesh Atid, who was appointed to form the government by President Reuven Rivlin, has agreed to a rotating prime ministerial office with Yamina chief Naftali Bennett, who would serve as prime minister first. If confirmed, the new coalition would remove Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from office after 12 years of consecutive rule.

In addition to the judiciary committee, there is another sticking point in the negotiations on the future of the judiciary.

New Hope chairman Gideon Sa’ar, the prospective attorney general, has argued with some of his potential coalition partners over a plan to reform the attorney general’s position. The attorney general is also the government’s chief legal advisor and chief prosecutor, and Sa’ar wants to split the roles.

While several other issues related to the distribution of portfolios to lawmakers were reportedly resolved, Sa’ar’s proposal prevented New Hope from signing an agreement.

Disagreements also reportedly persist with the Arab Ra’am Party, whose support is almost certainly needed for the coalition to be sworn in.

New Hope boss Gideon Sa’ar comes to negotiations on the formation of a unity government in Kfar Maccabiah, June 01, 2021 (Miriam Alster / Flash90)

On Tuesday, Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas said the Islamist party would be part of the coalition and was optimistic that an agreement would be reached, but stressed that nothing would be over until the final agreements were signed.

According to Hebrew media reports, on Wednesday there was still no clear picture of whether the party would be in the coalition or give outside support.

According to public broadcaster Kan, which reported on Tuesday, the disagreements over Ra’am center on Abbas’s request that the Interior Ministry relinquish extensive powers to local Arab-Israeli community councils, a request made by Shaked To be interior minister, rejects.

Channel 13 reported that Ra’am’s call to freeze a town planning law deemed unfair against the Arab-Israeli community and an agreement was reached on the government’s key principles of not including language in relation to the LGBTQ community.

Under the nascent Yamina-Yesh Atid rotation agreement, Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years before handing the reins to Lapid. If confirmed, it will be a precarious coalition with 61 of the 120 Knesset lawmakers who support it – and each of its votes has potentially power that could lead to its collapse.

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