Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Bibi Heads Largest-Ever Gov't
Incoming Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is set to present this afternoon the largest government in Israel’s history – 30 ministers and 8 deputy ministers.
The Kadima party will lead the new Knesset opposition, which will also comprise the National Union, Meretz and the Arab parties. Kadima has already filed a complaint against the coalition-forming process, and has asked that the presentation of the government be delayed until next week.
Kadima faction head MK Yoel Hasson criticized, among other things, the “secret” coalition agreement reached with the United Torah Judaism (UTJ) faction. Likud faction head MK Ze’ev Elkin said that no agreement with UTJ had yet been signed. The bottom line of the dispute was written by the Knesset’s legal counsel, who ruled that the government may be presented as planned.
Netanyahu Justifies Large Gov't
The government is to be Israel’s largest, even though Netanyahu himself, as Opposition leader in the past, called the relatively large Kadima government “ostentatious and wasteful.” Netanyahu has explained that the cost to the Israeli taxpayer of not having a stable government would be many times higher than the costs of added ministers and ministries.
The ministerial table in the Knesset has already been enlarged to accommodate the burgeoned number of ministers.
The coalition was formed in a piecemeal manner. First to sign with the Likud was Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home), headed by Avigdor Lieberman, followed by Shas and the Jewish Home. The Labor Party was a surprise addition at nearly the last minute. Ongoing negotiations with the National Union went nowhere, especially after Labor joined up, but talks with UTJ are expected to conclude successfully in the coming hours or days.
Finding Room for the Likud
Following the inclusion of Labor, Netanyahu then faced his hardest challenge: Finding enough ministerial portfolios to satisfy his fellow Likud colleagues. In the end, no fewer than 14 Likud members – more than half of the 27 party MKs – will receive portfolios, and another three are set to become Deputy Ministers.
Shalom is Miffed
Though he faces much public criticism for forming Israel’s largest government in history, Netanyahu appears to have succeeded in making his Likud colleagues happy – except in the case of his main challenger, Silvan Shalom. Having served in the past both as Foreign Minister and Finance Minister, Shalom demands the latter post, but Netanyahu decided to give it to MK Yuval Steinitz (see below). Shalom has been offered the Ministry of Regional Development, as well as the Vice Premiership, but he is rumored to be considering not joining the government altogether. He and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon, before the government is presented in the Knesset.
Commentators assume, however, that in the end, Shalom will accept the posts he has been offered – and hope that he will be next in line for the Foreign Ministry in the event that Lieberman is forced to leave. Lieberman has been under police investigation for 13 years, and is liable to be forced to resign from the Cabinet if the police recommend indicting him.
Shalom has reportedly been promised the Foreign Affairs ministry if that occurs – prompting Yisrael Beiteinu to respond angrily that if Lieberman is forced to quit the government, his party will also quit the coalition. Without Lieberman’s 15 Knesset seats, the coalition will not have a majority within the Knesset.
The New Government
The incoming government is to be sworn in at the Knesset at 5 PM on Tuesday. It will apparently look as follows:
Binyamin Netanyahu – Prime Minister
Yuval Steinitz - Finance
Gideon Saar - Education
Moshe Kachlon - Communications
Yisrael Katz - Transportation
Moshe Yaalon – Strategic Affairs and Vice Prime Minister
Gilad Erdan - Environment
Dan Meridor – Intelligence and Deputy Prime Minister
Limor Livnat – Culture and Sport
Yuli Edelstein - Information and Diaspora Affairs
Michael Eitan – without portfolio, responsible for gov’t services to the public
Benny Begin - without portfolio
Yossi Peled - without portfolio
Silvan Shalom – Vice PM and Regional Affairs Minister?
Avigdor Lieberman – Foreign Affairs and Deputy PM
Yitzchak Aharonovitz – Public Security
Uzi Landau – Infrastructures
Sofa Landver – Immigration and Absorption
Stas Misazhnikov - Tourism
Ehud Barak – Defense and Deputy PM
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer – Industry and Trade
Yitzchak Herzog - Welfare
Shalom Simchon – Agriculture
Avishai Braverman - Minorities
Eli Yishai – Interior and Deputy PM
Ariel Attias - Housing
Yaakov Margi – Religious Affairs
Meshulam Nahari – without portfolio
Rabbi Prof. Daniel Hershkovitz – Science
Yaakov Ne’eman - Justice
Yitzchak Cohen (Shas) – Finance
Gila Gamliel (Likud) – PM’s Office
Leah Ness (Likud) – Pensioners Affairs
Ayoub Kara (Likud)
Danny Ayalon (Yisrael Beiteinu) - Foreign Ministry
Matan Vilnai (Labor) – Defense
Orit Noked (Labor) – Industry and Trade
If and when a coalition agreement is signed with UTJ, Moshe Gafni is to serve as Deputy Health Minister, with Ministerial authorities.