Likud Wins Long-battled Chairmanship of Prestigious Knesset Committee

Two Likud legislators to chair Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in rotation; Yesh Atid's Shelah rejects deputy minister proposal.

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Ze'ev Elkin and Yariv Levin in the Knesset.Credit: Emil Salman

The battle for the chairmanship of the Knesset most prestigious committee is apparently coming to an end this week, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the leaders of the two largest factions in the Knesset, appear to have agreed on a compromise.

Netanayhu has decided that both Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin and coalition whip Yariv Levin (Likud) will rotate the chairmanship of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, while a Yesh Atid's lawmaker be appointed a deputy minister in a major ministry as compensation. However, MK Ofer Shelah, Yesh Atid's candidate for the committee chairmanship, on Monday said that he is not interested in the job.

The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee wasn't convened in the past five months, since Avigdor Lieberman left the post to be reinstated as foreign minister after he was acquitted of breach-of-trust charges.

According to the deal between Yesh Atid and the Likud, Elkin will be the first to fill the post.

The Knesset House Committee approved Elkin's and Levin's appointments on Monday. The proposal will now be brought for a vote in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Sources with knowledge of the details of the exchange between Netanyahu's bureau and Yesh Atid told Haaretz that Shelah was offered a deputy minister position, or to head the prestigious joint committee on the defense budget. As a journalist, before he was elected to Kneset, Shelah covered the military budget and the army's struggle to carry out structural and conceptual changes.

A statement published by Yesh Atid did not mention Shelah's by name, and only said that a party MK would be named deputy minister. If indeed Shelah would take the offer, he could replace Elkin as deputy foreign minister. Another possibility is that Shaleh would replace Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, who, in his part, will take on Elkin's job.

Netanyahu and Lapid agreed earlier this year that the committee chairmanship would rotate between MK Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) and MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid). But each party leader insisted that his man be appointed first, so the post remained empty.

Last month, the High Court of Justice, in response to a petition by Labor MKs, ordered the Knesset to explain by early May why it hasn’t appointed a chairman for the committee. Indirectly, the move was seen as a rebuke of Netanyahu, who ultimately is responsible for appointing the committee chairman.

In recent weeks it was suggested both the committee and the coalition chairmanship would rotate between Elkin and Levin, but this was rejected by Lapid, who wanted Shelah for the job, as so Netanyahu's bureau tried to find a suitable compensation for Shelah. Adding Shelah to the rotation was ruled out by the Likud, which argued that it would harm the chairman's' ability to do his job.

Netanyahu's aides in the Prime Minister Office hope that approving the appointments would bring an end to the saga. 

MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid), right, with Finance Minister Yair Lapid.Credit: Michal Fattal

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