Struggle Over Ministerial Posts Prevents Final Coalition

YERUSHALAYIM -
Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu (C) at the weekly cabinet meeting. (REUTERS)
Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu (C) at the weekly cabinet meeting. (REUTERS)

Marathon negotiations on Sunday night and Monday between Likud-Beiteinu, Yesh Atid and Jewish Home appeared to yield significant progress toward a new government coalition, though several ministries were still up for grabs, according to media reports late Monday.

After several hours of talks through Monday afternoon, Likud representative David Shimron emerged to declare: “All the issues are behind us, apart from the issue related to the allocation of ministerial portfolios.”

The Education Ministry remained the most difficult sticking point, according to reports, with Likud-Beiteinu seeking to keep it for the incumbent minister MK Gideon Sa’ar (Likud).

Attorney David Shimron, who has been representing Likud-Beiteinu in coalition talks. (Flash90)
Attorney David Shimron, who has been representing Likud-Beiteinu in coalition talks. (Flash90)

Likud-Beiteinu negotiators have pointed out that Yair Lapid’s party has won most of its demands — including no chareidim and a reduction of the Cabinet to 20 as of Monday, a major concession that has caused considerable unrest among senior Likud politicians seeking ministerial appointments — and that it should gracefully relent on Education.

Sa’ar was No. 2 in the last Likud primaries, and if he is forced out of the Education post, he will have to be compensated with something else of importance, such as the Interior Ministry.

Meanwhile on Monday, Labor party leader Shelly Yacimovich, who has steadfastly refused to join Netanyahu’s coalition due to the ideological gulf between them, said she would reconsider in the event of significant diplomatic progress.

At a faction meeting, Yacimovich said that if significant progress is made during Obama’s visit, Labor will reconsider its deadlock position.

“We are leaving to lead the opposition with our heads held high and proud, because we have stood by our convictions,” Yacimovich stated.

Jewish Home officials seemed optimistic that there would be a coalition, scheduling a central committee meeting for Wednesday evening. The committee is required to authorize any coalition agreement the party signs.

While the struggle over who gets what job obscured almost all else on Monday, one of the issues that was clarified was Jewish Home’s position on talks with the Palestinians, ruling out a freeze on construction in Yehudah and Shomron as a precondition.

“Instead of freezing construction, the government can work to release prisoners or transfer funds to the Palestinian Authority. We will not dismantle the government over such steps,” a Jewish Home official said.

It appeared likely that Jewish Home’s chairman Naftali Bennett will be the public diplomacy minister in addition to holding the Industry, Trade and Labor portfolio.

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman’s forecast at a press conference in Dimona on Sunday may be borne out:

“I figure that by Tuesday everything will be closed,” he said in reference to coalition talks. “Maybe we need another day to have understandings in advance and prevent friction in the future.”

Lieberman’s right to return to head the Foreign Ministry once his corruption trial is over withstood sustained pressure from Lapid to gain the post for himself. As a Likud official observed, Netanyahu had little choice but to hold it for Lieberman, because without him he has no hope of a coalition. As a result, Yair Lapid will have to accept something else, probably either Finance or Interior, though it went unmentioned on Monday evening.