Netanyahu's Offer to Make Bennett Education Minister Irks Likud

At least four senior Likud MKs wanted that job for themselves.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who is also Minister for Diaspora Affairs, waving.
AP

Senior Likud MKs are furious over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tentative decision to give the Education Ministry to Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett, since at least four of them wanted that job for themselves.

The Likud contenders include current ministers Gilad Erdan and Yuval Steinitz.

“It’s inconceivable for us to get warmed-over leftovers while our partners are getting the sought-after ministries,” one senior Likudnik said Sunday. “I intend to make this clear to the prime minister in the coming days.”

Sources in Habayit Hayehudi said Netanyahu promised to tell Bennett by Tuesday whether the ministry was definitely his.

Only this coming weekend, after finalizing deals with his coalition partners, is Netanyahu expected to start divvying up jobs to Likud MKs. But many are already grumbling.

“It’s already clear that most of Likud’s senior ministers won’t get upgraded jobs,” one said. “Netanyahu gave all the significant positions to his coalition partners. Thus the main beneficiaries this time will be the party’s senior MKs: Zeev Elkin, Yariv Levin, Gila Gamliel and Tzipi Hotovely. The younger generation had bypassed the party’s top rank even in the previous primary, but only now will they be upgraded to ministerial positions.”

Likud sources said the cabinet will apparently include 22 ministers – Netanyahu and 12 others from Likud, plus nine from his coalition partners. Some ministers will apparently remain in their current jobs, probably including Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz.

But Erdan, who came in first in the Likud primary, will have to leave the Interior Ministry, since that is going to Shas. Likud sources said he had wanted to get the Education Ministry instead. But if that is denied him, they said, he will probably seek the Public Security Ministry.

“Erdan doesn’t want to be justice minister,” one Likud MK asserted. “He’s a reformer who’s capable of fomenting revolutions. He needs to get a substantial operational portfolio.”

Who the next justice minister will be remains an open question.

“Netanyahu will give the portfolio to someone he trusts,” a Likud source said. “A new attorney general will be appointed during this term, and the prime minister wants a justice minister who will promote a candidate who speaks the prime minister’s language.”

Those who have been mentioned as possible candidates for the post include Steinitz, Gamliel and Silvan Shalom. But Likud sources said the first two were more likely, since Shalom isn’t sufficiently close to Netanyahu.

MK Benny Begin, the sources added, would probably be given the Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Ministry.

Party sources predicted that two ministries would go to Likud women, and three women are competing for them: Gamliel, Hotovely and Miri Regev. The latter, they said, might become either social affairs minister or deputy defense minister.

“Regev isn’t close to the prime minister and it’s not clear how obligated he feels toward her, but their relationship improved greatly during the campaign,” one source said.

Hotovely, the sources added, seems likely to get the Communications Ministry.

Meanwhile, Likud is still trying to finalize coalition agreements with its partners. The deadline is in 10 days, and the sticking points now are “all about portfolios,” a senior Likud MK said.

“Netanyahu has to settle the ministries, especially with Bennett and [Shas chairman Aryeh] Deri,” he added. “Everything else will move quickly.”

The sources said the portfolio issue has already been settled with some parties, such as Kulanu: Party chairman Moshe Kahlon will be finance minister and MK Yoav Galant will be housing minister. Kulanu will also get the Environmental Protection Ministry, though it’s not yet clear who will hold it.

The issue also seems close to being settled with Habayit Hayehudi, as Likud sources predicted that Netanyahu will agree to give Bennett the Education Ministry despite the opposition this has aroused among his own party. Habayit Hayehudi will also apparently get the Agriculture Ministry and one other ministry.

In contrast, reaching an agreement over portfolios with Shas has been a major headache for Netanyahu, due to his need to compensate the party for having diminished the Interior Ministry by agreeing to move the Planning Administration to the Finance Ministry.

Now that Bennett, who is currently economy minister, has decided he wants the education portfolio instead, Likud was hoping it could satisfy Shas by giving it the Economy Ministry. But Deri said Sunday that he doesn’t want that portfolio. Likud sources predicted that Deri will insist on either the Interior Ministry with the Planning Administration – which would violate Netanyahu’s promise to Kahlon – or the Transportation Ministry, which Netanyahu had previously promised to let Katz keep.