The shape of the government being formed by Israel’s Prime Minister-designate, Binyamin Netanyahu, is still not known. Two weeks before the initial deadline for presenting a government coalition, most of the political action is going on behind closed doors between Netanyahu, Yisrael Beiteinu party chief Avigdor Lieberman and Sephardic hareidi party Shas.
According to some reports, Netanyahu plans to appoint a leading businessman as “minister in the Finance Ministry,” while he himself will hold the title of Finance Minister and supervise policy making. Netanyahu was Finance Minister three times: twice for relatively short periods when he was Prime Minister and for 2.5 years under then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Netanyahu reportedly wants to be Finance Minister in order to make it easier to push the government budget through the Knesset.
Shrouded in Smoke
Netanyahu and Lieberman held a prolonged meeting in the Knesset on Thursday. The location of the meeting was kept secret from reporters for as long as possible and the two politicians were only accompanied by a small retinue composed of bodyguards and drivers. When reporters finally located the room where the meeting was held, they were not able to discern much about the goings on except that the smell of cigar smoke was heavy in the corridor outside.
After the meeting, the two released a joint statement, which said that they had discussed “matters of security and economics, and especially the need to pass the budget.” It also said that while the two leaders had ‘assessed’ the negotiations between their parties, the matter of which portfolio was to go to whom would be discussed later. Both sides, it said, believe that the portfolio distribution “will not present an obstacle.”
According to a report published in the Hebrew-language daily Haaretz on Friday, Lieberman is demanding that Netanyahu give him full freedom as Foreign Minister. He wants guarantees that MK Silvan Shalom (Likud), even as Defense Minister, will not receive authority over a specific diplomatic subject – such as negotiations with Syria – that will cut into Lieberman’s authority.
Lieberman reportedly also wants his party to control the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, the Public Security Ministry and the Communications Ministry, and to have Prof. Daniel Friedmann reappointed to the Justice Ministry.
Eli Yishai, chairman of the Sephardic religious Shas, said that his party is interested in the ‘social’ ministries: Interior, Housing, Religion, Welfare and Health. Yishai expressed hope that a draft agreement between Shas and Likud would be drafted next week.
The two smaller parties that are to join the government are National Union and Jewish Home. Each of them wants a ministry as well: Yaakov Katz (Ketzaleh) wants Housing for his National Union party, and Rabbi Dr. Daniel Hershkowitz, head of the Jewish Home, wants Education. Ketzaleh served as top assistant to Ariel Sharon when the latter was Housing Minister in the early 90's.
Inside Labor, there is fierce opposition to party leader Ehud Barak’s wish to join the coalition. Some 200 Labor activists met Thursday and demanded that the party head for the opposition. MK Ophir Pines told the assembled activists that accepting Barak’s move to join the coalition would result in Labor becoming “a fig leaf for a right-wing radical government.”