Rivlin to Task Netanyahu With Forming Israel's Next Government

Jonathan Lis
Noa Shpigel
Yair Ettinger
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President Reuven Rivlin, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Credit: AP
Jonathan Lis
Noa Shpigel
Yair Ettinger

President Reuven Rivlin is expected today to appoint Benjamin Netanyahu to form the next government, after 67 members of the new Knesset recommended his candidacy.

Central Elections Committee chairman Salim Joubran is likely to submit the official results of the elections to Rivlin in the afternoon and at 7:30 P.M. Netanyahu will appear before the president to receive the appointment.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu clarified that he does intend to appoint Moshe Kahlon as the next finance minister. The pair met for the first time in a year and half.

In addition, on Tuesday Habayit Hayehudi announced that party leader Naftali Bennett will demand that Netanyahu grant his party three key ministerial portfolios: defense, education and religious affairs. The far-reaching demands are apparently a negotiating tactic. A Bennett associate admitted Tuesday  that “it’s clear to us that we will not get the defense ministry.”

Netanyahu’s meeting with the Kulanu party leader ended a year-and-a-half rift, as the prime minister confirmed he would fulfill his pre-election promise to give Kahlon the reins of the treasury.

Kahlon, a former Likud minister, refused on Tuesday to say officially what demands he plans to present in coalition negotiations. However, a source in the party said he is likely to demand a third of the number of ministerial slots and official positions allocated to Likud in the emerging government, since Kulanu has 10 Knesset seats to Likud’s 30.

Party sources suggested this would amount to three ministerial portfolios, including Kahlon at finance and Yoav Galant at internal security or strategic and intelligence affairs. Either of these jobs would put Galant in the inner cabinet, strengthening Kahlon’s position in the coalition.

The third ministerial portfolio, according to Kulanu sources, could go either to Avi Gabay, a Kahlon associate who was not on the party’s Knesset slate, or to the party’s No. 3, Eli Alaluf. Gabay was CEO of telecommunications giant Bezeq for six years during Kahlon’s tenure as communications minister.

Kahlon is expected to appoint Shai Babad, former director-general of the Second Broadcasting Authority, as director general of the Finance Ministry. Babad resigned his position at the Second Authority months ago to accept the 11th slot on the Kulanu list, but fell one slot short of getting in. Babad was CEO of shipping company Zim.

It is not clear if Kulanu will stick to its demand for the Knesset Finance Committee chairmanship. Likud sources told Haaretz that discussion is underway to appoint United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni to the position, in return for his agreement to advance the economic reforms Kahlon is planning.

Likud sources have made it clear in the past few days that Habayit Hayehudi’s decrease in electoral power will mean that Bennett must compromise substantially. “There is no reason for an 8-seat party to get more than two portfolios,” a senior party official clarified. “We will be willing to consider three portfolios if Bennett retreats from his demand to receive a senior portfolio such as Foreign Affairs or Defense.”

Bennett’s demand for the defense portfolio deepens the competition with coalition partners: Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday reiterated his demand for the position and declined to say whether he would compromise on a more junior position.

The sitting defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon is considered Netanyahu’s favorite for the position. Likud sources said Tuesday that “the three most senior ministries – defense, foreign affairs and finance – from the ruling party. A least one of them will have to remain in our hands.”

Demands for the religious affairs portfolio, currently held by Bennett, is also likely to complicate the coalition negotiations. Shas leader Aryeh Deri has said he plans to demand it for himself along with the Interior Ministry which he will demand that his party hold.

Meanwhile, Shas chairman Arye Dery is considering requesting two cabinet portfolios just for himself in the next government. If Shas is allotted two portfolios in the coalition negotiations, he could ask to head both the interior and religious affairs ministries.

Dery has not made a final decision, but giving him two portfolios might be a solution for Netanyahu, who faces a legal limit of 18 ministers in his incoming government, a result of legislation passed in the outgoing Knesset, ironically, by Dery’s political nemesis, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.

Dery apparently reasons that if he takes the two portfolios himself, it will pave the way for some deputy-minister slots for Shas, which would solidify his status as party leader.

As Dery gears up to enter the new government, following a Knesset term in the opposition, petitions have been circulating on the Internet calling on Netanyahu not to bring him into the cabinet because of his 1999 conviction for taking bribes and breach of trust.

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