Analysis / Coalition Negotiations Enter Final Stretch |

Netanyahu's Real Problem: Handing Out the Coalition Crumbs to Likud

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The meeting that took place Sunday evening between Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu and the leaders of Yesh Atid and Habyit Hayehudi, meant to pull the coalition negotiations out the mud, ended long after this edition was sent to bed. If the three indeed managed to settle the latest disputes (over the size of the government and the fate of the Education Ministry), and no further meetings are necessary, Netanyahu will wake up by Tuesday morning at the latest with a real problem: distributing the remaining portfolios, or the crumbs, to the Likud MKs.

Over the last few days, Netanyahu has conducted secret negotiations with the ultra-Orthodox parties. Netanyahu had hoped that Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett would give in to Likud pleading and join the coalition quickly. Then Netanyahu could have abandoned Lapid, done a complete 180 and returned to his beloved ultra-Orthodox. Likud-Yisrael Beitienu hoped Bennett would swallow his pride instead of marching into opposition with Lapid.

But Netanyahu's scheme failed. Lapid and Bennet came to Netanyahu together and negotiated together, like peas in a pod. Another scenario was considered by the PMO until Lapid relinquished his claim to the Foreign Ministry portfolio this past weekend. That plan was to form a government of 55 MKs (Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu, the ultra-Orthodox, and Hatnuah ) and present it to the Knesset, in the hope that Bennett wouldn't dare to vote against the right, antagonizing his voter base. This scenario has also become irrelevant.

Back to Likud's sorrows - there are candidates aplenty, and only a few ministerial portfolios to be had. If Netanyahu manages to come out of this round of political Twister unscathed, he should be awarded the Nobel Prize, or an Oscar. Today will be difficult. Tomorrow, when all those scorned MKs swear their revenge, will be even more difficult.

Netanyahu's greatest test will come from current ministers who are looking for advancement. Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan would like to stay in office for one more term, and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has always felt he deserves bigger and better things.

And they aren't the only ones. The biggest irony is that Moshe Ya'alon, who has been embittered for the past four years, is about to realize his dream and become defense minister.

Netanyahu will also have to deal with the MKs restlessly clamoring for advancement. All those Likud MKs, including Danny Danon and Tzipi Hotovely, have been waiting - whether patiently or impatiently - for the next government, seeing it as their opportunity to become ministers.

IllustrationCredit: Amos Biderman
PM Benjamin Netanyahu waving to supporters, January 23, 2013.Credit: AFP