Likud to Begin Outlining Next Government, Braces for Face-off With Bennett

Moshe Kahlon cancels Kulanu meeting with Likud representatives in protest of 'promises' made to other parties before official start to coalition negotiations.

Emil Salman

The Likud negotiating team is expected to hold meetings Thursday with four of the five parties likely to be its coalition partners, as negotiations officially were to open in the Knesset a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was granted authority to form the new government.

Representatives for the fifth party, Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu, canceled a meeting scheduled for Thursday morning in protest of advance "promises" Likud made to other parties before the official negotiations commenced.

The Likud team includes MKs Yariv Levin and Zeev Elkin, attorney David Shimron, a close associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Yoav Horowitz, the CEO of Avis Israel.

The most serious confrontation is expected to be with the Habayit Hayehudi party, whose chairman, Naftali Bennett, wants the defense, education, and religious services portfolios for his party.

Likud sources say that of those three, only education will be offered to Bennett. “Bennett still hasn’t internalized the election results,” a senior party source involved in the negotiations said, referring to the fact that Habayit Hayehudi dropped from 12 seats to eight.

Many in Likud expect the next government to have as many as 24 ministers. Shas chairman Arye Dery and Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman both object to raising the number of ministers from the legally mandated 18.

Though the composition of the government has yet to be finalized, Likud is expected to get 10 ministers and Habayit Hayehudi and Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party would get three each, leaving Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu only one minister each. Likud wants to increase the number of its cabinet seats to at least 13 and assure two ministerial posts each for Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu.

“There’s no choice but to increase the number of ministers,” said a Likud source. “If Dery and Lieberman are the only representatives of their factions at the cabinet table, they will have difficulty manning the various ministerial committees, first and foremost the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which decides in practice which laws pass the Knesset and which get buried.”

The defense portfolio will likely remain with the incumbent minister, Moshe Ya’alon of Likud, with the treasury going to Kahlon, as Netanyahu promised. The immigrant absorption portfolio will likely remain with the current minister, Yisrael Beiteinu’s Sofa Landver, while Dery will get the Interior Ministry. Likud officials intend to ask Lieberman to remain in his current post as foreign minister. Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism will apparently be given the health portfolio, but only as a deputy minister, since UTJ refuses to accept ministerial posts. Likud wants to keep the justice portfolio for itself, and it will likely be offered to either Gilad Erdan or Yariv Levin.

Kulanu-Likud tensions

Meanwhile, Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon instructed on Thursday morning his party representatives to refrain from attending a coalition negotiations meeting scheduled with Likud delegates, due to his anger over the Likud's handling of the process.

Kahlon is upset over what he described as promises made to hand the position of chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee to MK Moshe Gafni, of the United Torah Judaism party, in face of his demand the role be given to a Kulanu member.

A representative for Kulanu said on Thursday morning that "In light of the Likud's political decision to hand out positions in a way that will harm our ability to lower the housing prices and to deal with the high cost of living - before the coalition negotiation teams even met - Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon instructed the party's negotiating team to cancel the meeting with Likud representatives that was scheduled for today."

The Likud's negotiating team will meet on Thursday with representatives of Habayit Hayehudi, Yisrael Beitenu, Shas, and United Torah Judaism. The team issued a statement calling Kahlon's move "odd and needless."

"The public expects that a government be set up speedily, for the benefit of all the citizens of Israel – and the place to sort out any differences is around the negotiating table," the statement read.