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Israeli Knesset approves war cabinet, opposition leader Lapid refuses to join

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a special plenum session presenting the new emergency government at the Knesset assembly hall, in Jerusalem, Oct. 12, 2023. (Photo: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The Knesset approved Israel’s new war cabinet on Thursday, voting to add five ministers from the opposition National Unity party to Netanyahu's government.

Knesset Member and National Unity leader Benny Gantz, MK Gadi Eisenkot, who are both former Israel Defense Forces chiefs, along with Gideon Sa’ar, Chili Tropper and Yifat Shasha-Biton, were all added to the government as ministers without portfolio. Gantz is also a former Israeli defense minister.

In addition, Gantz will sit on a war cabinet with Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant with Eisenkot and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer joining as observer members. 

The Knesset voted 66 in favor and four against and also approved the appointment of Uriel Buso from the Orthodox Shas party as health minister, as Israel's healthcare system has come under increased strain due to the war. 

Leader of the opposition, Yair Lapid, did not join the unity government, saying he didn't think it would work but just “add to the mess.”

Lapid specified that there were several reasons why he did not want to join the government, which included the presence of what he called “extremists” in the government, referring to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and saying having them in the government is “no way to make decisions."

Lapid also said that a double security cabinet structure without the establishment of clear lines of authority and the continued presence in the government of those who had been in power during the failure to prevent the Hamas massacre are other reasons why he will not join Netanyahu's government.

It is “a structure that can’t work, it’ll just add to the mess,” Lapid said. “Instead of one cabinet, [there are] two cabinets that will fight.”

“Take the extremists out of the government,” Lapid urged.  “What happened this last Shabbat is an unpardonable failure.” He stressed that those “who started the failure can’t fix it.”

Lapid made it clear that he thought it was highly problematic that Ben Gvir is in charge of the Israel Police, while Smotrich is in charge of the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, internationally known as the West Bank.

“If I had thought that what is happening today is a real unity government, I would have done it,” Lapid said, adding: “We’ll support every action, we’ll help every way we can.”

Despite Lapid’s opposition to accepting the invitation to join the government, Gantz and Netanyahu agreed to keep a spot for Lapid in the war cabinet, should he decide to join in the future.  

During the Knesset session, Netanyahu said that the new unity government sends a strong message to Israelis and the world alike. 

“The Jewish people… have withstood dark challenges, perhaps more than any other nation. But we’ve never given up. We stand before this conflict together in internal fraternity and with mutual concern. Israel’s national unity is sending a huge message, externally and internally.”

The war cabinet will meet at least every 48 hours and will have the authority to give operational orders to security forces and services and to expand the war goals according to the situation. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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