Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that he intends to have the three primary government posts of defense, foreign affairs and finance headed by members of the joint Likud-Beytenu party after the elections scheduled for Jan. 22, which, polls show, the joint list is expected to win.
A senior Likud official said the idea is to leave the defense, finance, and foreign portfolios in the hands of the ruling party to enable assertive progress in all three areas, but, the official clarified, "final appointments will be made only after the elections and in accordance with the results of the subsequent coalition negotiations."
Netanyahu is said to be saving the foreign minister portfolio for former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is currently facing charges of fraud and breach of public trust. If, as expected, Netanyahu will be tasked with forming the next coalition, he will serve as both prime minister and foreign minister at least until Lieberman's fate is decided by the court.
Vice Prime Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon (Likud) is the leading contender for the defense portfolio. The finance ministry is expected to remain in the hands of Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) or perhaps be passed on to one of the two top Likud primary winners, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar or Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan.
As part of the Likud and Yisrael Beytenu joint ticket agreement, the Yisrael Beytenu chairman will be able to choose any of the top three government portfolios for himself and his close advisors say he would prefer heading a more active post, such as finance or defense. If he requests the defense post, Netanyahu may hold that portfolio as well until Lieberman's expected trial is concluded. In that case, Yair Shamir, former chairman of the Israel Aircraft Industries and no. 2 on Yisrael Beytenu's list, will serve as deputy defense minister. Shamir, son of the late former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, is expected to serve as a senior minister in the next government even if he is not given the defense portfolio.
Ya'alon, a former Israel Defense Forces chief of the general staff, sees himself as a natural candidate for defense minister. His close advisors say Netanyahu promised him the post in the past and Ya'alon now expects him to fulfill his promise after the coming elections. Ya'alon's opponents within the Likud fear that awarding him the defense portfolio would strengthen his position in the Likud and would thus present him as a viable alternative to Netanyahu once the latter steps down. The appointment would have no political logic, Ya'alon's opponents say, unless Netanyahu prefers Ya'alon to other potential successors — first among them Gideon Sa'ar.
Netanyahu is interested in a right-wing coalition and sees Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) and Shas as his natural partners. He has pointed out, however, that the basic guidelines of his government will be "clear and realistic." The guidelines will include an agreement between Likud and Yisrael Beytenu to advance the legal recognition of the marriages of 300,000 Russian immigrants whose Jewish lineage is in doubt, as well as a pledge to pass Ya'alon's Tal Law replacement proposal.
Netanyahu has not ruled out adding Shelly Yachimovich's Labor party or Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah (The Movement) to the coalition, although he has stated that the platforms of those parties will not enable him to offer them portfolios they naturally would want to have, such as finance and foreign affairs.
In the coming days before the elections, Netanyahu will focus on convincing voters of the advantages of voting for a large party. "All polls indicate that an overwhelming majority trust Netanyahu as prime minister but feel that they can strengthen him even by voting for smaller parties. Netanyahu will explain that voting for smaller parties will in fact weaken him," a senior Likud minister said.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu attended an event in Beersheba on Thursday and had a beer with students of the Ayalim Foundation, which is devoted to developing Israel's peripheral towns and cities, and representatives of a movement to revitalize Beersheba's Old City. The prime minister was treated to a tour of the city together with Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom and Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich.