Coalition Talks Hit New Impasse Over Lapid Demands

YERUSHALAYIM -

In the latest brouhaha in coalition talks, Yesh Atid canceled a meeting with Likud-Beiteinu on Wednesday, ostensibly over the issue of the size of the Cabinet, though a senior Likud official dismissed it as mere spin.

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid’s insistence on reducing the number of ministerial appointments to 18 — from the outgoing 30 — is also said to be straining his alliance with Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, who was said by sources to be ready to sign onto the new government without a quota on Cabinet size.

A senior Likud source quoted by The Jerusalem Post said Yesh Atid is “trying to distract the public from the bigger question.”

“Why, when throughout the election Lapid asked ‘where is the money,’ he has yet to respond to our offer to be the next Finance Minister, where the money is found and changes and reforms can be made,” he said.

Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said that Lapid was loathe to become Finance Minister who will have to implement Netanyahu’s austerity budget, which is sure to hurt his popularity.

“That’s not part of ‘new politics,’” he said, referring to a party catchphrase, “so they’re trying to make it seem like an argument about values.”

Lapid reportedly turned down the offer of Finance Minister in favor of the Foreign Ministry. However, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has promised Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman he would keep that open for him.

Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein on Wednesday night stated that there is no legal bar to Netanyahu “holding” the post vacant for Lieberman until the trial against him is over, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The attorney-general said that a prime minister can hold additional portfolios at his discretion, and that even if there was no “arrangement,” the prime minister could give Lieberman any post at any time, assuming he is found innocent of the corruption charges against him.

According to Erdan, Likud-Beiteinu is not seeking a government with 28 ministers, as has been alleged, but intends to “significantly reduce” the number of portfolios from the outgoing government, which had 30.

Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelach, engaging in some reverse spin, said on Wednesday afternoon that talk about Lapid rejecting the Finance Ministry are “spins manufactured by the Likud.”

Still, when asked on Army Radio whether Lapid wants the position, Shelach said “Yesh Atid deserves one of the three senior portfolios. We won’t discuss which one until we get an answer to our demand on the number of ministries.”

Rumors were flying on Wednesday about Bennett taking Finance, but his office denied it, saying, “Bennett did not speak to the prime minister at all, the report is untrue. The portfolios have not yet been decided upon.”

An innocent bystander of the battle over ministries could be Likud’s Gideon Saar, the Education Minister. Even though Saar came in first place after Netanyahu in the Likud primary, his seat at the Cabinet table is not secure.

“I have been asked if I will continue as Education Minister in the next government,” he said at a school principals’ conference at the Dead Sea Tuesday. “In the current political reality, I simply do not know, but I want you to know that I would like to continue.”