Netanyahu’s political challenges: Expanding gov’t, handing out Likud portfolios


Netanyahu’s political challenges: Expanding gov’t, handing out Likud portfolios
Yuval Karni /Ynetnews /Published: 05.08.15 / Israel News

Before he can appoint 10 additional Likud ministers, the prime minister will have to pass an amendment expanding the number of ministers in the government. After securing the smallest of majorities in his bid to form a government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will face two major political challenges this coming week as he will have to maneuver a vote on increasing the number of ministers, as well as hand out portfolios to 10 senior Likud MKs next week. Only two of the 12 expected Likud ministers have been told what role they will play in the fourth Netanyahu government – Moshe Ya’alon who will stay in the Defense Ministry and Yisrael Katz who will remain in the Transportation Ministry. After handing out most of the senior ministries to coalition partners, Netanyahu will have to find a way to appease three of the senior ministers in his third government: Gilad Erdan, who won the Likud’s primaries, Silvan Shalom, and Netanyahu’s long-time ally Yuval Steinitz. Senior Likud officials said Netanyahu has already scheduled meetings with Likud ministers and MKs ahead of the distribution of portfolios, which will take place on Tuesday – after both the government and Knesset are scheduled to vote on expanding the government, a vote that requires the attendance of all 61 coalition members to pass.

Netanyahu plans to hand out the portfolios to his Likud party members only a day before the new government is sworn in on Wednesday, in order to stop disappointed MKs from teaming up and working against the new government. According to Likud sources, the Public Security Ministry, one of the remaining senior positions left up for grabs, will either be handed out to Erdan or Steinitz. If he doesn’t receive the public security portfolio, Steinitz could be appointed to the Energy and Water Ministry, the Interior Ministry, or maintain his post at the Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Ministry. Benny Begin, who was urged by Netanyahu to return to the Likud, is also a contender for the Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Ministry. Silvan Shalom, meanwhile, could either remain in the Energy and Water Ministry or be appointed interior minister. Yariv Levin, who served as the chairman of the Likud faction in the 19th Knesset, is also in the running for the Interior Ministry. He is also a potential candidate for the Tourism or Culture and Sport ministries.

Outgoing deputy foreign minister Tzachi Hanegbi will likely find himself in the Communications Ministry, though outgoing deputy minister in the PMO and the Environmental Protection Ministry, Ofir Akunis, is also in the running for the communications portfolio.

Danny Danon, who was fired from his position as deputy defense minister in July 2014 after publicly criticizing Netanyahu’s handling of Operation Protective Edge, could receive the Ministry for Senior Citizens, the Welfare Ministry or the Immigrant Absorption Ministry.

Haim Katz, who chaired the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, is also in the running for the senior citizens and welfare portfolios. Tzipi Hotovely, who served as the deputy transportation minister in the 19th Knesset, is a contender for the Science, Technology and Space Ministry, as well as the Tourism Ministry. Meanwhile Ze’ev Elkin, who headed Likud’s coalition negotiations team, is also in the running for the science and immigrant absorption portfolios. Miri Regev, the highest-ranked woman on the Likud list, is in the running for the Welfare Ministry, while Gila Gamliel, who was promised a ministerial position from Netanyahu, is in the running for the culture and sport portfolio. In addition to the ministerial positions, two Likud MKs will be appointed deputies for the defense minister, even though senior political and security officials believe the Defense Ministry does not need even one.

Crucial vote
The government will convene on Sunday to vote on the decision to increase the number of ministers in the government, limited to 18 in the previous term. The vote will then pass on to the Knesset for approval on Monday, where all 61 members of the coalition will have to attend and vote in favor for it to pass. The coalition now faces two possibilities: If the motion to expand the government passes in the Knesset on Monday, all 20 government ministers will be sworn in on Wednesday: 12 Likud ministers, three Kulanu minister, three Bayit Yehudi ministers, and two Shas ministers.

But if the coalition fails to pass the amendment to the Basic Law: The Government to increase the number of ministers, only 15 ministers will be sworn in on Wednesday, with five additional ministers (two from Likud, one from Kulanu, one from Bayit Yehudi and one from Shas) remaining “hostages” of the coalition until the amendment passes in the Knesset. This is done to ensure all 61 MKs from all coalition parties support the amendment so the five “hostage” ministers can be sworn in at a later date.
**Itamar Eichner, Orly Azoulay and Akiva Novik contributed to this report.