Likud Attacks Smotrich for Attempt to Set Up ‘Government Within a Government’

Head Likud negotiator of ongoing coalition talks says far-right ally wants to ‘take over half the government,’ as Smotrich seeks control over several key ministries

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Yariv Levin (center) and other Likud officials earlier this month.
Yariv Levin (center) and other Likud officials earlier this month.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Prime Minister designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party ramped up attacks against far-right ally Bezalel Smotrich this week, with senior lawmakers lambasting the Religious Zionism leader for demanding that they reassign specific departments in multiple government ministries to ministries that his MKs will control.

Speaking with the Walla news site, lawmaker Yariv Levin, who is leading the coalition negotiations for Likud, accused Smotrich of working to “establish a government within a government,” claiming that he “wants to take over half the government.”

At issue is the distribution of ministerial positions among Netanyahu’s allies who have demanded control over several key ministries, leading to grumbling among his own party’s MKs that “there is not much left for Likud.” While Likud won 32 seats, the other potential members of the coalition – Shas, United Torah Judaism and Religious Zionism – collectively won a similar number of seats, making it difficult for Likud to insist on holding senior government portfolios.

Netanyahu on Wednesday agreed to grant Religious Zionism authority over the Civil Administration which oversees construction, infrastructure and security coordination in the West Bank and is traditionally overseen by the Defense Ministry.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu flanked by Arye Dery, left, and Bezalel Smotrich in Jerusalem last week.Credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

Smotrich also seeks responsibility for the Education Ministry department that supervises state-religious schools including the authority to appoint its head, and similar control over the Jewish Conversion Authority, which is currently in the Prime Minister’s Office. Smotrich is also demanding a number of units in the Foreign Ministry.

Following yesterday morning’s double bombing in Jerusalem, in which a 16-year-old Canadian yeshiva student was killed, Smotrich appealed to Netanyahu “to convene all leaders of the incoming coalition, so we can form a right-wing government that will restore security to the citizens of Israel.”

In response, the Likud implored Smotrich to “quit hunting for jobs and ministries” amidst the current uptick in violence.

Speaking to Ynet in an article published on Thursday morning, Likud lawmaker David Bitan lashed out at both Smotrich and the incoming prime minister.

His fellow Likud legislators “don’t know how to negotiate,” he said, stating that “they should have known that Smotrich would be very tough and would have a lot of demands.”

“The outcome of the negotiations is not in favor of the Likud – which is a great shame,” he continued, accusing Smotrich and Religious Zionism of having “crossed the line in terms of their requests.”

These comments follow earlier remarks made during a radio interview on Tuesday in which Bitan said that Netanyahu had “crossed the line” in how he has so far related to the rest of Likud.

“He [Netanyahu] must lead the party so that Likud will be an influential party and not only heading the government as prime minister,” Bitan said.

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