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Likud Ministers Await Cabinet Assignments

Coalition: Attention now turns from Labor to the Likud, where potential ministers, quiet until now, will demand their share of Cabinet portfolios.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 3/25/2009, 4:19 PM

Following the Labor Party vote enabling the party’s entry into the coalition, Binyamin Netanyahu has achieved what he wanted: a form of a national unity government, as opposed to what some see as a “narrow right-wing” government.

The Prime Minister-designate must now, however, turn inward and see if he can placate those within his own party who see themselves as worthy of receiving Cabinet portfolios.  Netanyahu will have to dole out minor ministries, and form new ones, for his own party colleagues.

At present, six ministries are spoken for in the deal with Yisrael Beiteinu, five more have been promised to Labor, and four are taken by Shas.  Assuming there will be 25 ministers in the government, as is the case in the outgoing government, and assuming the Jewish Home receives one, this leaves only nine for the Likud – most of them on the lower end of the scale of importance.

Labor, even though it cannot guarantee that all 13 of its MKs will support the government, is to receive five Cabinet portfolios: Defense, Welfare, Industry and Trade, Agriculture, and one more.  In addition, it is to receive two Deputy Ministers and the head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee (until late 2010).  Party leader Ehud Barak does not have eight party MKs to fill these positions, as only six of the party’s MKs support the entry into the coalition.

Israel Our Home (Yisrael Beiteinu), headed by Avigdor Lieberman, is to receive five ministries: Foreign Affairs (Lieberman), Infrastructures (Uzi Landau), Public Security (Yitzchak Aharonovitch), Absorption (Sofa Landver), and Tourism (Stas Misezhnikov).  MK David Rotem is to head the Knesset Law Committee.

In addition, the coalition deal with Yisrael Beiteinu  specifies that the Justice Ministry will be given to respected attorney Yaakov Ne’eman, who is not a member of Yisrael Beiteinu.  The party agreed, however, not to object if the entry of Labor necessitates changes in the distribution of ministerial portfolios.  The first such change might have to be in the Justice Ministry.

The Sephardic hareidi-religious Shas party will receive, with 11 Knesset mandates – two fewer than Labor and four fewer than Yisrael Beiteinu – is to receive four ministries: Party Leader Eli Yishai will be named Minister of the Interior, Ariel Attias will be Housing Minister, Yaakov Margi will take over Religious Affairs, and Yitzchak Cohen will be a minister without portfolio.  Shas will also chair the Knesset Interior Committee.

As of Wednesday morning, it was assumed that Rabbi Dr. Daniel Hershkovitz would become Minister of Culture, Science and Sport on behalf of the Jewish Home party.

The ministries that remain available for the Likud include some important ones, such as Finance, Education, Transportation, and Communications, together with some less important ones, such as Negev and Galilee Development, Pensioners, Environment, Health, Diaspora Affairs, Strategic Affairs, Peace Process Economics, and others.

Leading candidates in the Likud to become ministers are MKs Gideon Saar, Silvan Shalom, Yisrael Katz, Moshe Kachlon, Gilad Erdan, Yuval Shteinitz and Yuli Edelstein.  In addition, newcomers Benny Begin, Moshe Yaalon and Dan Meridor are expected to clamor for posts as well.

Yaalon has already released Netanyahu from his promise to name him Defense Minister.

The Knesset Speaker, Reuven ("Ruby") Rivlin, will come from the Likud, as will the upcoming Deputy Prime Minister and Acting Prime Minister.

Netanyahu faced a similar situation in 1996, when the then-popular Ariel Sharon found himself without a ministerial portfolio in the new government.  Netanyahu then fashioned a new ministry out of various departments from other ministries, called it National Infrastructures, and assigned it to Sharon.  This time, as well, it is likely that new ministries will have to be formed in a creative manner.

At present, it appears that Netanyahu will retain the Finance Ministry for himself, Saar will become Education Minister, and Livnat will return to the Communications Ministry. 

The expected tensions in the Likud have still not surfaced, and Netanyahu was very complimentary towards his party colleagues in a faction meeting this afternoon (Wednesday).  “We hope to complete within a day or two, and then I will want to talk with you,” he told them. “I want to say that the Likud members are showing personal and national responsibility, restraint and maturity that are not common in Israeli politics. I know it is hard.”