Dery to Give Up Finance Ministry to Smotrich, Likud Sources Say

The Shas leader’s decision is likely to break the impasse in the coalition talks, which have recently slowed due to far-right lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich’s insistence on taking control of either Israel's defense or finance ministries

Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov
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Arye Dery in Jerusalem, Monday.
Arye Dery in Jerusalem, Monday.Credit: Noam Rivkin Fenton
Michael Hauser Tov
Michael Hauser Tov

Shas leader Arye Dery has expressed willingness to drop his demand to become the next finance minister, Likud sources told Haaretz on Monday, paving the way for far-right lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich to take the position and usher in a government

The two leaders were in a face-to-face meeting with Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu in a bid to form a government. Negotiations have slowed since the right-wing bloc won the November 1 election, with incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reluctant to agree to Religious Zionism leader Smotrich’s firm demand for the defense portfolio.

According to Likud’s latest proposal, Dery will likely be appointed to two roles: both as interior minister and transportation minister. Sources added that his party will also likely be given control over the Health Ministry, Religious Services Ministry initially demanded by Smotrich and the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee sought by Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry will remain in Likud’s hands and handed to Likud MK Yoav Galant. Since the beginning of talks, Smotrich had demanded either the finance or defense ministries, but the latter was rejected outright by the Likud leader, who feared an international outcry to such a move. Now that Smotrich can take the finance ministry, Netanyahu has seemingly cleared one of the main obstacles to forming a government that has dragged negotiations.

Contrary to Israel’s major news networks who reported that an agreement had been reached between Shas and Smotrich, a senior negotiator claimed on Monday night that the deal was far from done as the two had not yet abandoned entirely their original demands.

Bezalel Smotrich, last week.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

United Torah Judaism expressed their indignation about the expected deal with Dery, claiming it alters the coalition's ministry allocation arrangement. Sources in the party demand to suspend ministerial allocations until all the party heads can meet to discuss the developments.

The Shas leader’s promotion to a ministerial position, however, could be complicated following the recent decision by Israel’s attorney general that his appointment is subject to the Central Elections Committee chairman’s approval in light of his criminal history.

Dery, who two decades ago served 22 months in prison for taking bribes as interior minister, agreed to a plea bargain earlier this year for tax evasion. The deal was designed to allow his return to the cabinet after the next election, but Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara’s latest decision puts a roadblock on Netanyahu’s path to form a government.

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