Otzma Yehudit head demanding new Ministerial Committee for Legislation post, which his office says is meant to give him final say over what proposals the coalition will back
Far-right Otzma Yehudit party leader Itamar Ben Gvir threatened on Monday to hold up the formation of the next government unless he is made deputy head of a powerful government panel, which could vest him with the authority to determine whether the coalition gives crucial backing to proposed bills.
Ben Gvir told party members Monday that he wanted Otzma Yehudit to have control of a deputy head seat in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which decides what the coalition’s posture toward proposals will be. Bills that do not receive the committee’s backing face a significantly tougher slog toward passage.
Without this appointment, “we can’t form a government,” Ben Gvir said at the outset of his party’s Knesset faction meeting.
As the committee is not an official organ of the Knesset, each government can set the panel’s working procedures according to its own design, including granting certain positions veto power.
A spokesman for Ben Gvir confirmed on Monday that the ultimate aim of being named deputy head of the panel was to gain veto power. The committee is set to be headed by presumed incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and being named deputy, a position which does not currently exist, would also seemingly ensure that Ben Gvir becomes acting head of the body when Netanyahu is absent.
The public demand is the latest challenge for the hardline government being put together by Netanyahu, which is slated to include three far-right parties and two ultra-Orthodox parties, in addition to right-wing Likud. With the knowledge that Netanyahu is short on alternative parties to woo into his alliance, members of the prospective coalition have repeatedly squeezed him for far-ranging concessions.
Ben Gvir asserted that “some Likud MKs” are preventing Netanyahu from granting his request for a senior spot on the committee, although the Otzma Yehudit chief declined reporter requests to specify who is doing so.
Ben Gvir has previously raised suspicions that Netanyahu will renege on promises and understandings reached between their parties, and now said it “may be that they don’t really want to pass what they promised us.”
The comments came hours after a critical vote to swap the Knesset speaker was delayed to Tuesday due to pressure from the outgoing government, compressing the timeline for Netanyahu to pass a legislative blitz made up of bills set as a precondition for forming the governing coalition before a December 21 deadline.
The proposals from Ben Gvir and others include far-reaching changes to what powers certain authorities will be vested with, and members of the outgoing government have vowed to hold up their passage.
Tapped to hold the repackaged role of national security minister in the next government — essentially a beefed up version of the current police minister — Ben Gvir is pushing to pass legislation to expand his control over the police before the government is sworn in.
The proposed bill, expected to be brought for a preliminary vote swiftly after a Likud-chosen Knesset speaker is elected Tuesday, would grant Ben Gvir unprecedented, sweeping authority over policymaking in Israel’s police.
The bill would also make the police and its commissioner subordinate to political control, with the commissioner specifically subordinate to expected minister Ben Gvir.
Ben Gvir has championed yet-to-be-disclosed bills that would loosen security forces’ open-fire rules and provide them a form of immunity, as part of his platform of supporting soldiers and improving Israel’s internal security during a lingering terror wave.
Two weeks ago, Ben Gvir said that open fire rules should slacken to permit security forces to shoot anyone holding a stone or a firebomb. Current procedure requires a soldier feeling threatened to conduct a suspicious arrest protocol, or to wait to fire until the object is initially thrown.
Police officers follow separate open fire rules, emanating from the police commissioner.
A former defense lawyer for Jewish extremists, Ben Gvir himself has multiple convictions for racial incitement and support for Jewish terrorist group Kach, the legacy of racist and banned politician Meir Kahane.
Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, whom Ben Gvir will presumably soon oversee, accused the firebrand politician of fanning the flames during a shocking wave of Arab-Jewish violence within Israel’s mixed cities in May 2021, tied to Israel’s 11-day Operation Guardian of the Wall against the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip.
The two claim to have improved their relationship in recent weeks.