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Likud and Blue-White MKs battle over cabinet positions

What happened: Senior Likud and Blue and White MKs are jostling for ministerial posts ahead of this week’s vote on the new government, while the right-wing Yamina party has said it will join the opposition.

  • Yesterday Yamina rejected a Likud proposal that they receive the education ministry, Jerusalem and heritage portfolio, another deputy minister and a chair of a Knesset committee in order to join the new government.
  • According to a party statement, “Netanyahu is distancing us from the steering wheel, and putting us in the back seat, where we can have no influence. Let Netanyahu know that whoever deserts trusted partners during their good days, won’t find them beside him on the bad days. Yamina will be built from the opposition … in a year and a half, the game will open, and Yamina will be a true right-wing alternative. The dismantling of the right-wing bloc is all Netanyahu’s responsibility.”
  • There are 15 Likud ministers in the interim government, but there will be no more than 10 at the start of the next one, due to commitments to other partners. It will be even less if Yamina does decide to join the government in the next two days.
  • It appears the Finance Ministry will go to Likud’s Israel Katz, the current foreign minister, although during the election Netanyahu promised it to former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.
  • Netanyahu faces conflicting demands from his own party MKs over several positions. For example, Miri Regev wants the Public Security Ministry, however Gilad Erdan has held the position for five years and is keen to remain there. Another possible candidate for that role is the outgoing Justice Minister Amir Ohana. Yuli Edelstein wants to return to Speaker of the House, however, Blue and White are currently vetoing his appointment. There is speculation on whether Netanyahu’s main rival within the Likud, Gidon Saar, will be given a senior position. It is also unclear as to who will be the next health minister, after Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) declared he prefers to be given the housing ministry next.
  • Blue and White leader Benny Gantz is expected to appoint only ten ministers at this stage, and to forego deputy minister positions, sensitive to public criticism over a bloated government. The senior positions seem to have been allocated already: Gantz will be defence minister, Gabi Ashkenazi foreign minister and Avi Nissenkorn justice minister. MK Yoaz Hendel is expected to be communications minister, Chili Tropper culture minister. Labour MKs Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli will be economy minister and social welfare minister.

Context: Having passed the requisite legislation last week anchoring the rotation government, Prime Minister Netanyahu formally received the mandate on Friday after 72 MKs formally endorsed him to form his fifth government.

  • According to the coalition agreement, half the cabinet will come from the 53 seat right wing bloc, including Likud’s 36 seats, Shas’s 9 seats, UTJ’s 7 seats and Orly Levy-Abekasis. The second ‘half’ only has 19 seats; 16 Blue and White MKs, two from Derech Eretz and two from Labour, making it far easier to divide up their allocated portfolios.
  • Blue and White are vetoing Edelstein returning as Knesset speaker due to him ignoring a High Court ruling last month to hold a vote on his replacement. Conversely, pressure has been building on the prime minister from within the Likud who support Edelstein.
  • Netanyahu could compensate some Likud figures with high profile ambassadorial postings.
  • The Ministry of Health is of increased relevance due to the coronavirus. Blue and White had voiced its interest in obtaining the portfolio, but are reluctant to trade other positions. It could still be given to Yamina’s Naftali Bennett.
  • Netanyahu has traditionally positioned himself in the centre of his cabinet and will be wary of being outflanked by Yamina in the opposition. To avoid this, there are rumours that Likud are trying to split the Yamina party, keeping Rabbi Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich in the government, and leave Bennett and Ayelet Shaked in the opposition.

Looking ahead: The plan is to swear the new government into office on Wednesday, so the division of the portfolios needs to be concluded by then. However, a delay is possible as the deadline to present the government is not until 21 May.