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The Media Line: Days Before Israel’s New Gov’t Enters Office, Transition Nowhere in Sight

Days Before Israel’s New Gov’t Enters Office, Transition Nowhere in Sight

Netanyahu refuses to confirm attendance at traditional torch-passing ceremony

By Uri Cohen / The Media Line

As Israel prepares for its new government, set to be sworn in Sunday evening, tensions between outgoing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the man destined to replace him after 12 consecutive years in office, Naftali Bennett, continue to run high.

Taking a page out of the book of his friend from across the pond, former US President Donald Trump, Netanyahu has in recent days repeatedly assailed the incoming administration, accusing Yamina party chairman Bennett of committing the “election scam of the century” and warning Israelis their future government will put their lives at risk.

“You think their cabinet will be able to stand up to our enemies? To Hamas and Iran? You think they’ll authorize operations beyond enemy lines like I did?” Netanyahu blasted Bennett and his coalition colleagues this week.

The bad blood between the prime minister and his former aide and confidant turned bitter rival has caused many to speculate that Netanyahu will skip the traditional changing of the guard ceremony, normally held at the Prime Minister’s Office following the new government’s swearing-in.

Netanyahu and his office have yet to comment on his plans for Sunday and Monday, and refuse to confirm his attendance at the ceremony.

“The fact no transition has begun, by the prime minister, his staff or most of his ministers, is extremely unusual and counterproductive. What Netanyahu and his [Likud] party members have been saying is shameful,” Gilead Sher, a senior fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and former chief of staff to Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, told The Media Line.

Sher, who oversaw the transfer of power from Barak to his successor, Ariel Sharon, 20 years ago, said Netanyahu should “not try to cling to power.”

“In February of 2001, when Sharon beat Barak, the entire apparatus surrounding the prime minister entered transition mode to ensure an orderly, productive, thorough and smooth transition of power,” he said. “Mere days after the election, we were already holding meetings in our offices with Sharon’s people.”

Dov Weissglas, chief of staff to Sharon in the early 2000s, was more cautious.

“It is very unusual,” he said of Netanyahu’s conduct. “It just doesn’t make any sense. But it’s not overly dramatic, because there is significant carryover. A large chunk of the staff and public officials remains the same.

“It’s a very undesired situation, but it can be overcome,” Weissglas said.

In any case, as future head of the opposition, Netanyahu will be compelled to attend the lengthy parliamentary session on Sunday in which Bennett’s government will be voted in.

The Knesset meeting, which will be attended by President Reuven Rivlin, will begin with the presentation by Bennett of his eight-party coalition – its members, ministers, policy platforms and inter-party agreements.

The speech, which is sure to elicit heckles and interjections from Likud members of Knesset and other opposition members, will be followed by a similar address by designated Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid, the chairman of the Yesh Atid party, who is set to replace Bennett as premier in just over two years’ time.

Traditionally, the next speech is reserved for the intended opposition leader, by law the head of the largest party not included in the coalition.

This means Netanyahu will, for the last time in well over a decade, address parliament as prime minister.

After the three speeches, expected to be fiery and combative, the floor will be opened to any and all members of the house wishing to speak, followed by the election of a new parliamentary speaker.

Mickey Levy, of Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, is slated to replace Likud’s Yariv Levin.

Only then, at approximately 9 pm, will the crucial moment finally arrive, and the 120 lawmakers will hold a vote of confidence in the new government.

Bennett and Lapid’s patchwork coalition of far-right, centrist, far-left and Islamist parties is expected to eke out a 61-53 vote victory, with the Joint List, the electoral alliance of predominantly Arab parties left out of the coalition, either opposing or abstaining.

The new government ministers, led by Bennett, will then step up to the podium one by one to take their oath of office.

“The challenges facing this government can’t be ignored. This is far from a homogenous coalition, and the different elements are each pulling in opposite directions,” Sher observed.

“The Prime Minister’s Office, however, is the nation’s nerve center, and should operate smoothly and wisely, not run from one crisis to the next.”

Bennett, 49, will look to rein in his numerous political partners, many with contradictory ideologies.

“When a coalition is composed of a large number of smaller parties, the political challenge to keep everyone in check is highly complex,” said Weissglas. “Each single MK can bring this whole construct down. He’ll need to build a very capable team of political advisers that will constantly deal with coalition upkeep.”

Added Sher: “I think if he picks his staff wisely, not necessarily by their personal loyalty to him but by their fealty to the basic principles upholding society, trustworthy people with the good of the country in mind, there’s a real chance we’ll see this coalition hold and this country back on the right path again.”

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