Netanyahu Divvies Up Ministerial Positions, New Cabinet to Be Sworn in at 9 P.M.

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Illustration by Amos Biderman

The 34th Israeli government will be sworn in on Thursday night at 9 P.M. The ceremony was initially meant to be held at 7 P.M., but was delayed at the last minute.

The formation of the cabinet was made possible after the Knesset on Wednesday approved Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's proposal to increase the number of ministers.

The Knesset vote enabled Netanyahu to begin summoning Likud's members of Knesset to reveal the distribution of cabinet positions within the party. After a meeting between Netanyahu and Transport Minister Yisrael Katz, it was announced the minister will retain the transport portfolio, and will receive the intelligence portfolio as well.

Netanyahu began his next round of meetings Thursday morning, in an attempt to resolve all the problems and present his new government to the Knesset Thursday evening.

Moshe Ya'alon will remain defense minister after meeting with the prime minister Thursday morning. 

Netanyahu will handle the communications portfolio, and Likud MK Ofir Akunis will serve as a minister within the Communications Ministry. He will appoint MK Yuval Steinitz as minister of energy and infrastructure, and will have a seat in the security cabinet.

A long meeting with Minister Gilad Erdan Wednesday night ended without any concrete developments. The two scheduled an additional meeting, to take place before the government will be officially sworn in, in order to attempt to resolve the impasse.

Erdan was expected to receive the highest cabinet position among Likud MKs, after reaching the first place (after Netanyahu) in the Likud primaries. But the prime minister refused to tap him for foreign minister, choosing instead to keep the portfolio, possibly to be used later to entice the Zionist Union into the coalition. The Education Ministry, also eyed by Erdan, was given to Naftali Bennett of the Habayit Hayehudi party. The Interior Ministry, which Erdan currently leads, lost the Planning Administration to the new finance minister, Moshe Kahlon.

According to Likud sources, Erdan may prefer not to sit in the cabinet if not offered a satisfactory portfolio. 

Meanwhile, one of the most pitched battles in the party was decided Thursday afternoon, when it was announced that MK Haim Katz would get the Social Affairs Ministry that he had thought was his from the beginning. His challenger for the post, MK Miri Regev, will make do with the Culture and Sport Ministry. 

Regev and Netanyahu have had a hostile relationship for the past few years, which Regev tried to improve during the recent election campaign. She is considered to be a loyal ally of Netanyahu's political rival, Gideon Sa'ar, and several Likud officials have warned Netanyahu about putting a "Sa'ar extension" inside the cabinet.

"Even though she is a member of Likud, Regev has made Netanyahu's life hard during the previous term. Aside from her close relations with Sa'ar, and the fact that she planned to support his candidacy for the head of Likud, Regev has publically criticized the prime minister and claimed that Likud stopped being a social party under Netanyahu. She protested against his initiative to levy VAT on fruits and vegetables. Netanyahu does not forget such things," said a senior Likud official.

Regev denied the claims against her earlier this week. "The statements are baseless," she told Haaretz. "My loyalty is to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and no one else, period," she said. According to Regev, the "false claims" against her come from ministers and MKs who are worried about their own status and seek to spread rumors to harm her.

Also, MK Danny Danon, whom Netanyahu removed as deputy defense minister during last year's war in Gaza following Danon's strident criticism of its handling, was named minister of science, technology and space. 

In further appointments, MK Yariv Levin will be tourism minister and cabinet liaison to the Knesset, while MK Tzipi Hotovely will serve as deputy foreign minister.

Netanyahu also met with MK Tzachi Hanegbi.

Fifteen MKs are currently vying for the 12 ministerial positions designated for the Likud. Senior officials in the Likud have said that they are not concerned that the MKs not chosen as ministers will try to sabotage the fragile coalition.

"No Likud MK will try to topple the government because of a position he hasn't received," a senior Likud official said. "They will obviously be disappointed, but Netanyahu has the right tools to compensate them. He can also give them the title of deputy prime minister. or deputy minister without appointing a minister above them."

The position of ambassador to the United Nations, which will be opening up within the next few months, could also be an option for those senior MKs not tapped to a ministerial position – still, no few of these Likud MKs have already clarified that they are not interested in that post at this time.

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