Just 18 minutes before his mandate to form a government expired, Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu called President Isaac Herzog on the phone to inform him that he had succeeded in his task. Among the agreements concluded is a surprising clause stipulating that the incoming Minister of Housing & Construction will have a seat in the political-security cabinet. The person holding this position will be the head of the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party, Yitzhak Goldknopf, and as such he will be the first-ever UTJ member to have a seat in this key cabinet.
In addition to this appointment, the UTJ party with its seven seats will receive eight government positions. Two of its members will be ministers -- Goldknopf, as mentioned, and another UTJ member who will serve as Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage. The party will also have two deputy-ministers, one of whom will serve concurrently in both the Transportation Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office.
Four UTJ members will also be appointed as chairmen of Knesset committees.
Despite efforts to achieve signed agreements on certain issues of key importance to the haredi community, there still remain differences of opinion between the Likud and UTJ parties on several questions, including reforms to the kosher platform of cellular phones. The Degel HaTorah faction within UTJ, along with the haredi Shas party both want to open up the kosher platform to competition, with additional Communications Committees established, each of which may issue hechsherim (certificates of kosher status) to cellular phones sold to the haredi community. The Agudat Yisrael faction of UTJ, however, is opposed to this and wants to prevent any competition from entering the market.
The first party to reach a comprehensive agreement with the Likud is the Religious Zionism party, headed by MK Bezalel Smotrich. Sources from within the party told Israel National News that the actual signing of their agreement will take place at some point during the day. The UTJ party is also expected to sign a formal agreement on Thursday.
Among the clauses included in the agreement with Religious Zionism is a commitment to advance significant reform of the judicial system. Other clauses relate to the appointment of a rabbi from the Religious-Zionist stream as Chief Rabbi; legislative amendments connected to immigration breaches caused by the so-called Grandfather Clause in the Law of Return; amendments to kashrut supervision laws including implementing a strict separation between kashrut overseers (mashgichim) and the businesses they supervise; and the establishment of universal kashrut standards that will be applied across the board.
Other clauses relate to a commitment to pass a new Basic Law: Immigration as well as to reform of the state conversion system, increased government support to organizations teaching about Judaism, the designing of a program to deepen the country's Jewish identity along with a budget of millions of shekels, and a Basic Law that enshrines in law the value of Torah study as a fundamental value in the heritage of the Jewish People.
The future coalition partners have also committed to passing the so-called Motty Steinmetz law, which will legally establish that separate-gender events are not discriminatory in certain circumstances. The law gained its nickname following the last-minute judicial order to disallow a concert featuring the famous singer to go ahead, as men and women were to have been seated separately at the event -- this despite the fact that the concert catered exclusively to a haredi audience which only patronizes separate-gender events.
Other new laws on the agenda are ones to more firmly establish the position and authority of the IDF Chief Rabbi, and to transfer authority over Israeli citizens living in Judea and Samaria from the Civil Administration to the government.
Netanyahu and Smotrich have also agreed that within 60 days of the formation of the new government, a decision will be made to regularize the status of the "young settlements" which are at present defined as illegal. The yeshiva in the community of Homesh is also to be legalized via an amendment to the Disengagement Law as it applies to northern Samaria, and the Evyatar Outline is to be implemented immediately. Problems of inadequate cell phone reception across Judea and Samaria will also be addressed.
In addition, the establishment of the new city of Kassif is to be accelerated, and the Electricity Law will be abolished. This is a law that was passed under the Bennett-Lapid government and which was vociferously opposed by right-wing parties in the opposition, as it permitted illegally constructed buildings and indeed entire towns and villages of illegal buildings to be connected to the national electric grid -- which mainly affected Bedouin Arabs in the Negev.
Other clauses in the agreements relate to a new law to further Jewish settlement in the Galilee region with a budget of 400 million shekels, the establishment of a university in the Galilee, and a similar project for the Negev. A budget of 25 million shekels is to be allocated to "mixed cities," more assistance will be given to state-religious schools, and 350 million shekels per year are to be allocated to encouraging Jewish immigration from France and the United States.