Politicians are amusing themselves by speculating who will staff Benjamin Netanyahu’s next government if the polls in the run-up to next week’s election prove true.
“It’s still too early to earmark jobs, especially because no one knows what parties will make up the government or how many ministers it will have,” a Likud source said. “But it is possible at least in part to fill in some of the blanks.”
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz is the most senior minister likely to be demoted. Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar is a top candidate for his job, though political sources say an expert in the field might take over.
Ministers Dan Meridor and Benny Begin, who did poorly in the Likud primary, have received offers to serve in a third Netanyahu government, but it’s unclear if they will. Improvement of Government Services Minister Michael Eitan, who did not make the slate, is on his way out.
Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter is also considered on his way out, as are ministers from the Atzmaut party, which was racked by the retirement from politics of Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon is also resigning after January 22, but he could wind up in the government later.
As for the Defense Ministry, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon says he views himself as the natural candidate, but Ya’alon’s views have clashed with Netanyahu’s for example, on Iran.
“It would be safe to assume that if Netanyahu establishes a right-wing government, he’ll want a defense minister who’ll improve his image in the United States and in the international community,” said a Likud source. “When Ehud Barak announced his resignation from politics, he never hid that he’d agree to head the Defense Ministry after the election. Barak and Netanyahu share the same worldview and have worked closely. And Barak is respected by the international community.”
Meanwhile, Shalom Yerushalmi, political commentator for the daily Maariv, wrote Tuesday that Netanyahu’s people are considering Barak as Israel’s ambassador to Washington. Three notable Likud MKs view themselves as sure bets for the next cabinet: coalition chairman Zeev Elkin and Knesset committee chairmen Haim Katz and Yariv Levin. Also, Reuven Rivlin is expected to remain Knesset speaker and may be Likud’s candidate for president in less than two years.
Meanwhile, Tzipi Hotovely and Miri Regev, the highest-ranked women on the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu slate, are not expected to be appointed ministers, Likud sources say. Netanyahu seems to prefer current Culture Minister Limor Livnat, who’s number 18 on the ticket.
Regarding Yisrael Beiteinu, the distribution of portfolios isn’t so clear. Chairman Avigdor Lieberman wants to return as foreign minister, but he can’t because of his corruption indictment. Lieberman thus might wind up chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Yair Shamir, Yisrael Beiteinu’s No. 2 after Lieberman, says he sees himself as a candidate for a senior portfolio. Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch is thought likely to keep his job in the next government, as will Immigration Absorption Minister Sofa Landver. Meanwhile, Lieberman has announced that MK Faina Kirshenbaum will become agriculture minister.
It’s still unclear who will be energy and water resources minister. Likud sources are unhappy with incumbent Uzi Landau, while Gilad Erdan, currently environmental protection minister, is interested in the job but only if it’s combined with the environment portfolio.
Erdan may also be appointed justice minister, a job coveted by both Sa’ar and Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid. Lapid, however, could get the Education Ministry, people close to Netanyahu say.
Lapid announced on Tuesday that no member of his party would serve as a minister without portfolio, though he did not rule out serving in a government where others played that role.
Would Lapid modify his demand that the cabinet be pared down to between 10 and 18 ministers? Time will tell.
In recent weeks, he has made clear he would not join a government unless Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah, Shaul Mofaz’s Kadima or Shelly Yacimovich’s Labor joined him. But Yacimovich has ruled out joining a Netanyahu government, and Livni’s entry is far from sure after Netanyahu said he wouldn’t let her negotiate with the Palestinians.
Likud sources say that if Kadima makes it into the Knesset, Mofaz will become a junior minister. Mofaz would likely be the fig leaf allowing Lapid or Livni to join a Netanyahu cabinet.
Finally, it’s not clear what job the leader of right-wing Habayit Hayehudi, Naftali Bennett, would hold, or who else from his party might receive a ministry. It’s also unclear what portfolios Shas might get, especially after Netanyahu declared he would “appropriate” the interior and housing ministries to Yisrael Beiteinu.