After Netanyahu Tasked to Form Gov’t, Battles for Portfolios Emerge

YERUSHALAYIM -
israel unity government
A combination image of Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. (Reuters/Corinna Kern, Amir Cohen/File)

President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday received the signatures of 72 MKs who support Binyamin Netanyahu to be the next prime minister. Rivlin informed Netanyahu that he was the one tasked with forming the next government, hours before a deadline that would trigger a fourth round of elections.

“According to the request of a majority of Knesset members … I hereby notify you that you have 14 days to form a government,” Rivlin wrote in an official letter to Netanyahu.

The signatories were MKs from Likud, Blue and White, Derech Eretz (MKs Yoaz Hendel, Zvika Hauser), Labor (other than MK Meirav Michaeli), and Orly Levy-Abekasis. Unsigned were members of the Yamina party, due to tensions with the prime minister over the allotment of ministerial portfolios.

The two larger coalition parties, Likud and Blue and White, meanwhile, were still at odds over the Health Ministry. Blue and White officials want the portfolio and to appoint a medical professional as next minister – Prof. Yitzchak Kreiss, the director general of Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer. The party is willing to give back two minor portfolios in return, but Likud officials want something more significant in lieu of the health portfolio.

The coming week is expected to be extremely tense within the Likud as Netanyahu launches discussions with his MKs before dividing the goods, as the 58 members of the coalition’s right-wing bloc will have to suffice with just 15 ministers. The Likud’s 36 MKs will only receive between 10 to 12 ministerial posts, which is causing considerable stress within the party ranks.

The portfolio in hot demand remains the Internal Security Ministry currently held by Gilad Erdan, but both Miri Regev and Amir Ohana have been mentioned as potential successors. The Transportation Ministry is also in contention for all three.

In all likelihood, Yariv Levin will be appointed next Knesset Speaker, Yisrael Katz will be named Finance Minister, and Yoav Gallant and Avi Dichter view themselves as candidates for a security-related portfolio, such as the Ministry of Intelligence Affairs. Ofir Akunis would like to remain in place as head of the Ministry of Science and Technology or be named Israel’s next ambassador to the United Nations. Yuval Steinitz is expected to stay at the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources, Ze’ev Elkin will likely stay at the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Yamina, meanwhile, was still at odds over the number of ministerial posts their party of six MKs would receive for joining the coalition. After a Thursday afternoon meeting between Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett and Netanyahu, party sources said they have no intention of being a sidekick in the next government. According to the officials, based on Netanyahu’s answers to Bennett, the party will not join the government.

Likud officials argue that Yamina, which received six MKs in the last election, deserves the equivalent of 1.5 portfolios.

Yamina officials were angrily rejecting the offer, saying it doesn’t reflect “true partnership in the [right-wing] bloc,” which Netanyahu avowed throughout the past year.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu has viewed the religious-Zionist camp as a senior, important and strategic partner for years and therefore is working to bring it into the government this time as well,” said one Likud official. “To our regret, thus far every proposal presented by the Likud to Yamina has been met with resistance because every Yamina MK sees himself as a senior minister. The Likud can’t give five portfolios to a party with six MKs. Yamina needs to display national responsibility and joint the government.”