Deri demands Finance Ministry; Smotrich insisting on defense portfolio

Shas leader Aryeh Deri has demanded the Finance Ministry in the expected upcoming government led by Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu, as Religious Zionism insisted that party leader Bezalel Smotrich become defense minister.

Deri admitted to tax offenses earlier this year — his second criminal conviction — and resigned from the Knesset as part of a plea deal. However, he is returning to the Israeli parliament with his party holding 11 seats, making it the second-largest party in the right-religious bloc after Likud (Religious Zionism’s 14 seats, while running as one slate, are made up of separate factions).

Deri held consultations with associates over the past few days in which he was debating whether to demand the Finance Ministry, the Internal Security Ministry or the Interior Ministry, Channel 12 reported Sunday.

Earlier reports said Deri was slated to get the Interior Ministry, which he has led in the past.

The reports said that if Deri were to lead the Interior Ministry, his purview would be expanded to “make up” for him not receiving the Finance Ministry. The details of such extra authority were not made clear. The Shas party would also receive the Religious Affairs Ministry and Health Ministry, reports said.

Meanwhile, sources from Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism said the party will demand the defense, education and religious affairs portfolios.

Religious Zionist party leader Bezalel Smotrich arrives for coalition talks at a hotel in Jerusalem on November 9, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

According to recent reports, Netanyahu is reluctant to hand the defense portfolio to Smotrich.

Smotrich was reportedly suspected of planning a terror attack on a major Tel Aviv highway to protest the 2005 Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip. He was arrested during protests against the withdrawal and was held by the Shin Bet security service for three weeks, maintaining his right to remain silent and refusing to cooperate with the investigation.

Reports that Smotrich could receive the defense post have led to intense pushback from former top defense officials.

Channel 12 and Ynet reported Saturday that Netanyahu was leaning toward keeping defense within his own Likud party, and giving Smotrich the Treasury, which was on Sunday demanded by Deri.

Illustrative: Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) speaks with Shas party chairman Aryeh Deri during a meeting in Jerusalem, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Religious Zionism will also demand coalition agreements that include budget requirements, reforms to the legal system, legalization of settlements and the strengthening of Israel’s Jewish identity, the party sources said Sunday.

Netanyahu is set to receive the mandate to form the government from President Isaac Herzog on Sunday at the conclusion of the president’s consultations with the political parties.

Netanyahu secured the recommendations of the 64 MKs in his right-religious bloc (Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Religious Zionism,) while outgoing prime minister Yair Lapid was nominated by 28 MKs (Yesh Atid and Labor), with the remaining 28 (National Unity, Yisrael Beytenu, Ra’am and Hadash-Ta’al) declining to recommend anyone for the post.

Netanyahu is believed to be aiming to quickly form a new coalition with his right-wing, religious bloc in order to swear it in this coming week and avoid any potential last minute U-turns from his allies.

However, Kan news reported Saturday that difficulties in the negotiations may lead to a delay, with the new government to be sworn in only a week later. The report said that Religious Zionism has submitted a detailed list of demands that caused complications.

It said communications between the sides were severed over the weekend, but Netanyahu continued to meet with far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir, the leader of Otzma Yehudit, which ran on a joint list with Religious Zionism.

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