Every political commentator is now convinced that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made a strategic decision to establish a government with Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi. But within Yesh Atid, there is a belief that unofficial Likud representatives, together with Shas leaders, are feverishly working behind the scenes to win the heart of Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich, who could be given the finance portfolio. Likud and Shas have not given up hope on her.
But all evidence shows that Yachimovich won't join the government. She has pledged not to do so and she doesn't want to look like another Amir Peretz. Yachimovich also believes that the finance portfolio is currently a hindrance. She wouldn't be permitted to implement her social-democratic policies. And she couldn't do so, because budget cuts are necessary at this time. Given the current conditions, no political leaders are interested in the finance portfolio because they know it would hurt their chances of being elected again to the Knesset four years from now.
Even if "it's not over until it's over," casinos would at this point set the odds at 10:1 that the next government will consist of Likud-Beytenu, Yesh Atid, Habayit Hayehudi, Hatnuah and Kadima, with a total of 70 MKs. In this government, there will be 23-24 ministers.
Yesh Atid wants further discussions with Likud-Beytenu (with Habayit Hayehudi taking part) on a number of issues, but in essence the negotiations are now about the distribution of ministerial portfolios. There is no way around this messy part of the process. All the involved parties will wallow in mud.
It will be difficult for Netanyahu take the foreign affairs portfolio away from Avigdor Lieberman and give it to Yair Lapid. Naftali Bennett might seek the finance portfolio, but it's doubtful he'll get it. It seems that Lapid and Bennett will be forced to compete for high-level ministerial portfolios, but not the top three (defense, foreign affairs, finance). This might in fact be good for them, given the diplomatic and economic pressures Israel will face over the next two years.
When U.S. President Barack Obama applies a steamroller of pressure on Israel, no one from a party to the left of Likud will want to be foreign minister. Also, the global economic recession will make life difficult for the finance minister in Jerusalem.
So what portfolios will Lapid and Bennett receive? Possibilities include education; housing; industry, trade and labor; energy and water resources; and religious service. Four lower-level portfolios will also be available.
The battle for portfolios will inflame Likud-Beytenu. Battered since the election, Likud-Beytenu officials will find their path up the ladder blocked. Some will even have to move down due to a paucity of available portfolios. The initial rumblings of an earthquake can already be heard coming from Likud-Beytenu headquarters.