Netanyahu’s headache – Who will be Israel’s next defense minister?


Netanyahu’s headache – Who will be Israel’s next defense minister?

Naftali Bennet and Avigdor Liberman, the two fierce political rivals who have fought to solidify themselves as leaders of Israel’s nationalist camp, are now locking horns for the coveted position of defense minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s next government, Channel 2 is reporting. Neither is willing at this point to concede as coalition talks with Netanyahu’s ruling Likud faction are set to get underway next week. According to Channel 2, Liberman is signaling to Netanyahu that he “doesn’t have to enter the government” if he doesn’t receive a senior portfolio. There has been speculation that if Liberman is not given an opportunity to at least hold on to his previous position of foreign minister, he would quit politics in favor of a career in the private sector.

If Liberman’s party, Yisrael Beytenu, sits out Netanyahu’s government, the premier would be left with a coalition that commands a slim, narrow majority. Despite Liberman’s bravado, political observers believe that his demand for the defense portfolio is mere posturing, and that his real interest is to remain foreign minister.

Nonetheless, Liberman will insist that as foreign minister he oversees diplomatic contacts with the American and European governments, an area of responsibility that was given to then-justice minister Tzipi Livni during the previous Netanyahu administration.

The competition for the foreign minister’s job is stiff, with a number of senior Likud figures also angling for the plum title, among them Yuval Steinitz and Gilad Erdan.  The coalition talks between the Likud and its right-wing satellite parties is expected to be painstaking and difficult, especially considering the personal enmity and tension that has characterized the relationships between the party chairmen.

Bennett, for his part, will seek compensation from Netanyahu in light of what he views as Bayit Yehudi’s “sacrifice” of votes to the benefit of Likud. It was Netanyahu’s rightward lurch at the end of the campaign that compelled many Bayit Yehudi supporters to jump ship and give their votes to Likud. Now, according to Channel 2, Bennett will demand that his party receive the Defense Ministry as well as the Education Ministry. Likud officials, meanwhile, say that Bennett has very little leverage since there is no other coalition except for one led by Netanyahu that it would find acceptable. That is why Netanyahu will insist that Bennett return to his prior position as economy minister.