Bibi to Stuff Larger Cabinet

Netanyahu is splitting up ministries and dreaming up new ones to stuff an expanded Cabinet that will add millions of dollars to the deficit.

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu ,

Netanyahu (right) and Ya'alon
Netanyahu (right) and Ya'alon
Israel News Photo: (Flash 90)

Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu is splitting up current Cabinet ministries and coming up with new ones to meet demands of coalition partners and his own Likud party. He has justified the additional cost by arguing that the alternative would be far worse.

As of last count, the Cabinet will include 28 ministers and six deputy ministers, with the additional possibility of both a vice prime minster and deputy prime minister. Each ministry comes with administrative costs of more than a million shekels ($250,000) a year plus the cost of the ministry budget.

The Likud chairman is to present his new government on Tuesday. It now includes 69 Knesset Members from the Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and Jewish Home, with the possibility of five more from the United Torah Judaism (UTJ). The addition of Ichud Leumi (National Union) has become more improbable following Thursday’s destruction of the Meoz Esther community. The party has demanded that the government pledge not to dismantle Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and to state opposition to the creation of a new Arab state in their place.

“There is an economic price for a stable and large government, but the price of not establishing a strong and stable government is so great and catastrophic, in both financial terms and in jobs, that the cost of establishing a coalition is negligible," said the prime minister-designate in response to criticism.

He might split up the Communications Ministry to create a new post for responsibility solely for telephone services, with another one possible for television channels. Last week, he divided up the Ministry of Science, Sport and Culture and created a Ministry of Science post for Jewish Home chairman Rabbi Daniel Hershkowitz, who also is a professor at Technion University. No one has yet been named for the remaining Sport and Culture post.

The government already is facing a deficit far larger than expected as the worldwide recession grips the country and adds social and economic outlays. Layoffs, salary cuts, and a drop in consumer purchases have resulted in a sharp decline in tax revenues.
The government already is facing a deficit far larger than expected as the worldwide recession grips the country and adds social and economic outlays.

Netanyahu added, "I'm sure that we'll establish a government next week, and we'll get to work quickly. We did not just come to sit around, but we will work for the good of the country.

Netanyahu’s biggest problem is MK Silvan Shalom, who was Finance Minister and Foreign Minister in the Sharon government and tried to unseat party chairman Netanyahu in last year’s primary vote.

MK Shalom has warned he probably will refuse to be part of the Cabinet if he is not named Finance Minister, a post that Netanyahu prefers to keep for himself or for long-time friend MK Yuval Steinitz.

The next prime minister also has the option of appointing a deputy and a vice prime minster, with both positions more ceremonial than functional.

Former IDF Chief of Staff and new Likud MK Moshe Ya’alon might fill one of those posts or be named to head a rejuvenated Strategic Affairs ministry, which outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert created for Yisrael Beiteinu leader Knesset Member Avigdor Lieberman. He eventually quit the post when the party pulled out of the Olmert government to protest continued negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

MK Ya’alon was destined to be the Defense Minster until the Labor party reached an agreement last week to join the coalition, leaving the ministry in the hands of Labor chairman Ehud Barak.

Netanyahu’s caucus chairman Gideon Sa'ar, who led the coalition negotiations, apparently will be Education Minster, leaving less-desired posts open for half a dozen Likud hopefuls, including Benny Begin, former Education Minster Limor Livnat and Dan Meridor.

Meridor is considered to be on the verge of quitting the Knesset and returning to private law practice if he does not received an important Cabinet position. He represents the dovish wing of the Likud, and his views on surrendering the Golan Heights are in conflict with the party platform, which states the strategic area is non-negotiable as a bargaining chip for a peace treaty with Syria.

Netanyahu recruited Meridor to help keep the party from becoming more nationalist and even brought him into a meeting with Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair before the Likud primary election several months ago.