Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to balance religious and secular interests in a coalition government.

Netanyahu is looking to extent his record tenure as Israel’s PM and has until December 21 to form a government. President Isaac Herzog agreed to a 10-day extension at the weekend.

Likud’s leader however has been heavily criticised by Prime Minister Yair Lapid, political rivals and anti-corruption groups about his coalition discussions with Charedi factions in recent days.

Netanyahu is in talks to try reach a compromise. And he has vowed to represent all Israelis. But concern surrounds his meetings aside from previously announced ministerial appointments of Itamar Ben-Gvir (Otzma Yehudit), Avi Maoz (Noam) and Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionist).

The Biden administration will wait to see government policies, not personalities, of Netanyahu’s coalition.

Mass media coverage this week followed Channel 12 revealing reported agreed demands from the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party led by Yitzhak Goldknopf.

Notable issues included stopping electricity production on a Sabbath, increasing gender-separated beaches proportionate to the ultra-Orthodox population, expanding Bible and Talmud studies in secular schools, heads of hospitals being able to prohibit unleavened bread during Passover, shelving current government reforms to the ‘kosher phone’ market and a review of the Diaspora Affairs Ministry’s department responsible for Reform Judaism.

Netanyahu responded to reports. He reportedly said: “There is and will be electricity on Sabbath, there are and will be beaches for everyone. We will maintain the status quo, everybody will live according to their own beliefs.” He added that the state will not be governed according to Jewish law.

“There will be a state here that will take care of all the citizens of Israel without exception,” Netanyahu observed. “We were chosen to lead in our own way, the way of the national right and the way of the liberal right and we will do so.”

Notwithstanding Netanyahu comments, Lapid said: “The UTJ-Likud agreement is a disgraceful surrender agreement. If they think we’re going to pay taxes, go to the army, bankroll people who don’t work and then for them to tell us to lead our lives, I have news for them, we won’t allow Israel to become a benighted country. Netanyahu is weak and is selling our freedom for his own freedom.”

Outgoing Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman told a party meeting that Netanyahu will “go down in history as the one who led Israel to the third Churban Beit Hamikdash”.

Lieberman also said Netanyahu was “sacrificing the State of Israel to extricate himself from his personal legal struggles” and was embarking on a security gamble.

Lieberman stated that he will not join Netanyahu in a coalition and hopes Gantz won’t either.

Goldknopf said in a statement UTJ and Likud were still formulating an agreement and claims that “everything” was finalised” did not refer to a publicised list of demands attributed to the Charedi parties.

Meantime, Likud MK Yariv Levin has been elected speaker of the Knesset. His candidacy received support from all 64 MKs in the right-wing bloc.

Following Levin’s election, the Knesset debated legislation to enable a new government to be sworn in. Issues discussed will benefit Ben-Gvir, Smotrich and Aryeh Deri.

Netanyahu faces proceedings for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He denies all allegations.

In an ever-changing story the coming days are sure to bring more claims and counter reactions.