Will a last-minute crisis hinder the formation of a new government? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's inner circle is already making plans to present the emerging coalition to President Shimon Peres on Wednesday, as soon as the latter returns from his overseas trip. But the unfolding crisis between Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi may complicate things.
Late Sunday night, Netanyahu met with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett to try to iron out their disagreements over the new military draft mechanism and the distribution of portfolios. They were later joined by Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman.
Following the meeting, at around midnight, the parties' representatives said they had managed to bridge most of the gaps and that they would probably be able to resolve the last remaining issues over the course of the night and seal the deal on Monday.
Party leaders stayed in Jerusalem overnight to be close at hand in the event that their intervention would became necessary, with each sending a limited number of people to represent them in negotiations.
Habayit Hayehudi officials stressed that the crisis should not be interpreted as the dissolution of the Bennett-Lapid alliance and that it merely reflected disagreements over the size of the cabinet. According to some politicians, Lapid backtracked and was no longer willing to sign off on a cabinet that had 24 ministers (reverting to his initial demand of limiting the cabinet to a smaller number of ministers). They added that the crisis may have been planned all along, citing Lapid's insistence on securing the education portfolio for his party and thereby stripping it from Likud.
"Yesh Atid is playing for time"
Officials involved in the negotiations say that "Lapid is adamant on securing the education portfolio so that Likud is denied that portfolio." The officials further noted that "while Habayit Hayehudi wants to finalize the coalition agreement and is content with all of the agreed provisions, Yesh Atid has been dragging its feet for no apparent reason and is in no hurry to sign the coalition deal."
Barring an unforeseen development, Netanyahu plans to convene the Likud faction on Tuesday and assign portfolios to his party members. Bennett is also expected to convene his party's governing body on Tuesday to approve the ministerial appointments for his faction. Alongside Bennett, who is slated to become the industry, trade and labor minister, MK Uri Orbach is expected to become Jerusalem affairs minister, MK Uri Ariel is expected to get the housing and construction portfolio and MK Eli Ben-Dahan will be tapped for the Religious Services Ministry.
Orbach and Ben-Dahan's appointments do not have to be cleared by Habayit Hayehudi's governing body because they are part of the Tkuma faction, which under the rules of its merger with Habayit Hayehudi (a joint political entity that evolved from the National Religious Party) can decide its own ministerial appointments.
Battle over portfolios
At least two Yesh Atid members are eying the Interior Ministry: MK Meir Cohen and MK Yael German. Yesh Atid's Shai Piron covets the education portfolio should it become available.
Tensions were high among Likud members ahead of the decision on portfolios on Tuesday. Because of the crisis between the would-be coalition partners, many inside Likud were worried that they would be denied a seat at the cabinet table due to the uncertainties over Likud's share of ministers. As of Sunday, Likud was expected to have eight ministers and four deputy ministers. Consequently, Likud members who are not ministers in the outgoing government will probably be denied a ministerial portfolio in the next government. However, the battle over the position of Knesset speaker, or last minute changes in how the portfolios get distributed, could result in the Likud getting another portfolio.
MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud-Beytenu) and MK Danny Danon (Likud-Beytenu) would presumably seek to get the additional appointment, should it become available. Danon could end up being appointed deputy minister, and Hanegbi might ultimately be assigned the chairmanship of one of the Knesset committees. MK Ofir Akunis (Likud-Beytenu) is expected to become a deputy minister at the Prime Minister's Office and be in charge of implementing the Israel Broadcasting Authority Law. Outgoing Coalition Chairman MK Zeev Elkin (Likud-Beytenu) is expected to serve as deputy defense minister for matters pertaining to Judea and Samaria. MK Yariv Levin will likely be the head of the Knesset Constitution Law and Justice Committee.
Most of the Likud's ministerial contenders have voiced reservations over the portfolios the Likud is expected to get, since most of the coveted positions have been handed off to the other coalition partners. Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud-Beytenu) has turned down an offer to serve as the next Strategic Affairs Minister, nor has he been willing to accept the education or health portfolios. Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, who was 27th on the Likud-Beytenu Knesset candidate list, has reportedly said she would not accept the health portfolio and would insist on the communications ministry. Negev and Galilee Development Minister Silvan Shalom would also like to get a more prestigious position.
MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud-Beytenu), who bested the other women contenders in the Likud party primaries and placed 15th on the joint Likud-Beytenu Knesset candidate list, attacked the likely re-appointment of Livnat as minister. "I think it would be a mistake," Hotovely said. "It would be wrong to have all the ministers of the old politics recycled into the new government; it is not right, the public would ultimately look at this slate of Likud ministers and say, 'If it has no new blood, why did we have such grueling primaries?'" She stressed that sidelining the new guard "would imply a lack of confidence in the voting process."
Danon, who hopes to become either a minister or a deputy minister, also criticized the emerging makeup of the government. "The prime minister must have the younger Likud generation represented at the table, in light its successful primary," Danon said.