Netanyahu Mulls Excluding Habayit Hayehudi From Israel's Next Government

Likud sources say that the PM may accede to demands by centrist parties to resume Israeli-Palestinian talks; sources say that if Yair Lapid receives post of foreign minister, Defense Ministry will be given to Yisrael Beiteinu's Yair Shamir.

Revital Hovel
Jack Khoury
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Revital Hovel
Jack Khoury

If Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid insists on receiving the post of foreign minister, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will give the Defense Ministry to Yair Shamir, who ranked second on the Yisrael Beiteinu slate, Likud sources said on Thursday.

Sources close to Netanyahu also said he was considering leaving Habayit Hayehudi out of the coalition and acceding to demands by centrist parties to resume Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Assuming that Netanyahu forms the next government, Yisrael Beiteinu is expected to get one senior cabinet post - either foreign minister, defense minister or finance minister. Party leader Avigdor Lieberman, who recently resigned as foreign minister after his indictment on charges of fraud and breach of trust, cannot assume a cabinet post due to the charges pending against him. He had initially said he wanted the Foreign Ministry kept open for his return, should he be acquitted, but yesterday, he did not exclude the possibility it would be controlled by another party instead.

“The Foreign Ministry is not listed in the Land Registry in my name,” he told Israel Radio. “Before the election, I said that I saw myself as a candidate for one of the three senior cabinet portfolios, with a preference for the Foreign Ministry. I expect that ultimately, Yisrael Beiteinu will continue to retain the Foreign Ministry.”

On Wednesday, Lieberman proposed that Lapid take the Finance Ministry, but some observers think the Yesh Atid leader would prefer to pass up the offer.

Before the election, Lapid was expected to demand the education and justice ministries. But his party’s strong showing - with 19 seats, just short of Likud’s 20 - entitles him to demand one of the three top cabinet positions.

Though the official vote tally will only be released next week, the counting of the remaining votes - those cast outside neighborhood polling stations, by soldiers, hospital patients and others - finished on Thursday. The additional ballots shifted the balance of power slightly from the 60-60 tie between the right and the center-left that was reported on election night, giving the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party 12 seats instead of 11 at the expense of United Arab List-Ta’al, which will have four seats instead of five. As a result, the right will have 61 seats in the new Knesset, compared to 59 for centrist and left-wing parties.

Netanyahu called Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich yesterday and suggested that the two meet to discuss Labor’s joining the coalition. But Yacimovich said Labor would not join a government headed by Netanyahu, and rejected proposals by some within her party to consider doing so. Yacimovich told the prime minister he knew better than most how disparate Likud and Labor’s positions were on socioeconomic issues.

“It’s our intent to be a strong opposition [in the face of] the steps you intend to take,” party sources quoted her as telling Netanyahu. “With regard to the everything related to peace negotiations, which must be urgently resumed, the Labor Party will support any such move and back it from the opposition.”

Nonetheless, Yacimovich said she welcomed the opportunity to meet. Netanyahu and Zahava Gal-On, leader of the left-wing Meretz party, also agreed to meet, though Gal-On made it clear that her party had no intention of joining any government he headed.

Another possibility mooted yesterday was that Kadima party leader Shaul Mofaz, who is a former Israel Defense Force chief of staff and former defense minister, could serve as defense minister in the new government. Though Kadima barely squeaked into the Knesset, with two seats, he could get the job as a personal appointment by Lapid, just as the justice minister in the outgoing government, Yaakov Neeman, was a personal appointment by Yisrael Beiteinu.

In that case, Lapid could take the education portfolio, a post that has interested him from the beginning.

Likud’s Moshe Ya’alon, who is also a former IDF chief of staff, has said he sees himself as a “natural” candidate for defense minister. But Netanyahu is considered unlikely to consent to such an appointment in light of a series of disagreements between the two on defense issues during the outgoing government’s term.

An election poster showing Habayit Hayehudi's leader Naftali Bennett with Netanyahu. Credit: Nir Keidar