Netanyahu expected to announce a new government ahead of the midnight deadline

Facing a Wednesday night deadline, designated prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to declare later in the day that he is able to form a government, as his incoming right-religious bloc works to pass several legislative changes before taking office.

Netanyahu has until midnight to inform President Isaac Herzog, who formally tasked him with forming a new ruling coalition after last month’s Knesset elections, whether he has the votes to swear in a new government.

The Likud party leader can alternatively ask for an additional four days to finalize his coalition, after receiving a 10-day extension from Herzog, but appeared unlikely to do so.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, Netanyahu will phone Herzog to tell him that he has assembled a government, with the call likely to be filmed or photographed by the presumed new prime minister’s aides.

Netanyahu must also alert Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, the No. 2 in Likud, who was voted in as parliament’s head last week to facilitate the rapid approval of several bills pushed by Netanyahu’s far-right and ultra-Orthodox allies.

Levin in turn must then inform the Knesset, after which Netanyahu will have seven days to hold the government’s swearing-in.

Likud MK Yariv Levin sits at the plenum dais after being elected Knesset speaker, December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

However, the Knesset will not convene until next Monday, December 26. Netanyahu’s bloc and parties in the outgoing coalition cut an apparent deal Tuesday to halt all legislative sessions until then. Therefore it will only be on Monday that Levin will announce to parliament that the premier-designate is able to form a government, setting the seven-day clock in motion.

The delay means Netanyahu and his partners will have until January 2 to swear in the government, giving them more time to pass their coalition demands into law. Israeli television reports Tuesday evening said that members of the coalition were still hoping that swearing-in could be held before the end of next week.

Following Tuesday’s agreement between the rival parliamentary blocs, outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid pushed back on criticism that he was not doing enough to thwart the passage of the coalition-backed bills.

“We are fighting with all the available tools,” Lapid wrote in a Facebook post. “Our Knesset members have already spent countless hours in committees over the past few weeks, trying in every way to stop this corrupt and anti-democratic legislation.”

“Without the war that we’re waging, the government would have already been formed ten days ago and all the laws would have passed without any changes,” he asserted.

Lapid said the incoming opposition was limited in what it could do to oppose the bills, noting that Netanyahu’s majority bloc now controls the Knesset after Levin’s election to the speakership.

“These are the conditions that we’re working in. These are the election results and this is part of the price we are all paying. The only compromise we made was to reach agreements with them on deliberation hours over Hanukkah. Thanks to these agreements, Netanyahu also won’t form a government this week,” he said.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid speaks during a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 12, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The legislation being pushed by Likud and allied factions includes a bill demanded by the presumed next police minister Itamar Ben Gvir that will formalize political control over the police force. The proposal cleared its first reading Tuesday afternoon.

A second bill, which has also passed a first reading, would amend Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws to allow Religious Zionism chief Bezalel Smotrich to be appointed a minister in charge of settlement building and other major West Bank issues in the Defense Ministry, and to ensure Shas chief Aryeh Deri can become interior and health minister despite his recent suspended jail sentence for tax fraud.

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