Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid's request to be appointed foreign minister, saying that he intends to reappoint Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Lieberman to the job when legal proceedings against him are resolved.
Netanyahu left the door open for Lapid to choose the Finance Ministry portfolio or another economic ministerial position, or even the defense portfolio if he felt so inclined. Some analysts say that Lapid is also interested in securing the position of education minister for his No. 2, Rabbi Shai Piron.
Lapid is also expected to ask for the communications portfolio. Sources in Likud-Beytenu say that should Yesh Atid enter the coalition, it is likely to get the education portfolio, but that the communications portfolio will remain in the hands of the governing party.
Follow the money
Lieberman said Lapid would not head the Foreign Ministry in an interview with "Meet the Press" on Channel 2 on Saturday.
"The foreign portfolio will remain in the hands of Prime Minister Netanyahu until the conclusion of legal proceedings against me, at which point it will return to Yisrael Beytenu," Lieberman said. "Yair Lapid will most likely follow the money, which means he will ask to head the Finance Ministry."
"This was a done deal before the elections," he said. "It was no secret; we announced it during the election campaign and we announced it after elections. The options are clear and I will be very supportive if Yair Lapid actually focuses on solving the domestic problems he campaigned on, which have long been in need of a response. There is helping the middle class; there is the housing crisis and there is drafting the haredim [ultra-Orthodox]."
Speaking to Israel Radio two days after elections, Lieberman said, "I believe the foreign portfolio will remain in the hands of Yisrael Beytenu. But that is not written in stone."
In the meantime, the prime minister in pressing on with ongoing coalition negotiations. This week he will meet with Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett for the first time since the election, as well as with the heads of haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism. Senior members of Likud-Beytenu said that despite Lapid's desire to keep the haredim out of the coalition, Netanyahu has decided that the haredi parties will in fact be part of the coalition.
Damning with faint praise
Meanwhile on Saturday, former Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon made cutting remarks about Lieberman, his former boss at the Foreign Ministry. At a Shabbat cultural event in Holon, Ayalon was asked why Lieberman had conspicuously left him off Yisrael Beytenu's Knesset list this time around.
"He did not give me an explanation as to why he fired me, but he should have at least offered explanations to his party and supporters," Ayalon said.
Regarding their working relationship when Lieberman was foreign minister and Ayalon was his deputy, Ayalon said, "Over the last four years, I rose to the challenge of defending Israel. I felt it was my duty to defend Lieberman even though the world treated him like a leper. Out of respect, I will not repeat what people said about him. I don't want to hurt him."
Ayalon refused to evaluate how good a job Lieberman did as foreign minister, saying only, "He was foreign minister during challenging times and he tried his best."
In response to Ayalon's remarks, Lieberman said Saturday that "the decision not to include Ayalon on the list was the correct one."
"It got to the point where I no longer trusted him. For a long time I backed him up when he made mistakes. After the affair with the Turkish ambassador he got my full support," Lieberman said, referring to the 2010 incident in which Ayalon summoned Turkish Ambassador to Israel Ahmet Oğuz Çelikkol over an anti-Israel television show airing in Turkey and seated him on a lower chair than his, an act widely perceived as humiliation, and one for which Ayalon later apologized. Ayalon said at the time that the act was coordinated with Lieberman.
"In the past, Ayalon had a severe conflicts with [former vice prime minister] Silvan Shalom and he was excoriated by then-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. During his entire tenure he had only words of praise for me and my policies, but that changed as soon as he was not included on the Knesset list," Lieberman said.