In 1st cabinet meeting, new government okays state inquiry into Meron disaster

In its first order of business, the new Israeli cabinet voted Sunday to establish a state commission of inquiry into the deadly crush at Mount Meron in April, which killed 45 people in Israel’s worst peacetime disaster.

Heading his first cabinet meeting since being sworn in last week, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the government would do everything “to prevent future loss [of life].”

The proposal, submitted by Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, was approved unanimously.

Bennett said his coalition was aiming to act differently from the last one, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, and understood the need for “mutual trust” between its ministers.

“Due to the nature of the government and the diversity of its members, the key to our success is mutual trust,” he told the 27 ministers of the government at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. “When there are misunderstandings, one should just pick up the phone and resolve it quietly, without drama.”

The new government, which won confirmation by the Knesset last week with a razor-thin majority of 60-59 voters in the 120-seat parliament, brings together an unprecedented eight parties from across the political spectrum into the coalition.

“We came to serve the people. I think all of us, all members of the government, share the understanding that we are not the bosses of the citizens of Israel; we work for the citizens of Israel. This is the spirit that prevails among all members of the government,” Bennett said, adding that the new ministers were determined to make the government work “for the benefit of the public.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (C) meets with the heads of the parties in his coalition, June 20, 2021. (Courtesy)

Referring to the state commission of inquiry into the Mount Meron disaster, Bennett said: “As we promised, we are bringing for the government’s approval the proposal of my friends Gantz and Liberman to establish a state commission of inquiry into the Meron disaster.”

Bennett added: “The commission will not be able to revive those who are gone, but the government can do everything to prevent future loss [of life].”

“Each of the ministers has already started working. I got to talk to each of you in the last few days,” he said. “The overall transition was smooth and good, the ministers are full of desire to move forward.”

In his opening remarks, Bennett also referred to the election of the new hardline Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, saying: “It was not the public who chose him but [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei.”

“They chose the hangman from Tehran,” Bennett said, referring to Raisi’s nickname, which refers to his track record of overseeing thousands of executions in the Islamic Republic. “This is the position of the State of Israel.”

Ebrahim Raisi, points during a campaign rally in Eslamshahr, southwest of Tehran, Iran, June 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

He said that the new government would follow the previous Israeli administration’s policy of “determinedly opposing Iran reaching a nuclear weapon.”

Last week, it was reported that Bennett was hoping to use the coming weeks, ahead of Raisi’s inauguration, to hold talks with Washington in order to positively influence the expected US return to the nuclear deal.

The report said Bennett had lifted a ban by his predecessor Netanyahu on Israeli officials discussing the details of the emerging renewed deal between the US, world powers and Iran. Netanyahu had instructed security officials not to hold talks on the details of the deal with American officials, in an apparent effort to distance Israel from it.

At Sunday’s meeting, ministers also voted to approve the appointment of 36 ambassadors and consuls general whose postings had been held up by Netanyahu for over half a year.

The appointments include key postings, including Haim Regev as head of mission to the European Union, Daniel Zohar-Zonshine as ambassador to Brazil, Gilad Cohen as ambassador to Japan, and Eitan Surkis as ambassador to Jordan. Ambassadors were also approved to be sent to key European allies, including Poland, the Czech Republic, and Cyprus.

The cabinet also extended Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi’s tenure as head of the Israel Defense Forces for an additional year.

Later in the day, the security cabinet was to convene for the first time. According to Channel 12 news, the ministers in the forum were set to lay out the government’s policy vis-à-vis terror groups in the Gaza Strip.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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