Coalition Negotiations Continue |

Netanyahu Delays Formation of New Israeli Cabinet as Final Sticking Points Remain

Yesh Atid insists on education portfolio, while Likud officials assert final agreement could be wrapped up shortly; coalition parties agree to double threshold for entering Knesset from 2 to 4 percent.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to delay presenting his new Israeli coalition to the Knesset on Wednesday as he had hoped, due to unresolved disputes between Likud and Yesh Atid over which party will control the Education Ministry, as well as a disagreement over who will serve as chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee.

Senior Likud officials said Tuesday that coalition talks are not on the verge of a crisis and that a final agreement could be wrapped up shortly. Representatives from the coalition parties said Netanyahu could present his government tomorrow or the beginning of next week at the latest. President Shimon Peres had given Netanyahu an extension until this coming Saturday night to form a government.

Meanwhile, the major prospective parties in the incoming government agreed Tuesday that the vote threshold needed by parties to enter the Knesset will double from 2 percent to 4 percent, . The move is expected to alter the political map dramatically and cause particular harm to Arab parties.

The change in the vote threshold was agreed on by Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi. The requirement will be included in the coalition agreement and commit the parties to seek passage of a law providing for the change.

The doubling of the vote threshold came at the behest of Yisrael Beiteinu, which presented the change as an effort to decrease the number of votes that go to parties that never make it into the Knesset.

In practice, the change is expected to particularly hurt the Arab parties, each of which has just three or four MKs in the 120-seat parliament. It could compel them to join forces in the next election. The proposed change could also pose a problem for Hadash, a mixed Arab-Jewish party that would not be expected to become part of an Arab bloc or merge with a left-wing Jewish party. In the process, it could disappear from the Knesset in subsequent elections if the change is passed into law.

The major coalition parties also agreed Tuesday to advance a law making it harder for the Knesset to dismiss a sitting government, raising the number of MKs required for such a move from the current 61 votes to 70.

In the dispute over the education portfolio that is holding up the formation of the government, Yesh Atid threatened to torpedo the coalition talks if the party’s No. 2, Shai Piron, lost the post to incumbent Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar of Likud.

“Likud is conducting a campaign against Shai Piron. We will stand strong and insist on the portfolio. If necessary, we will opt for new elections,” said a senior official in Yesh Atid. Likud officials also stressed that they do not intend on standing down from their demand for the portfolio.

Sources in the negotiating team said that the option of a rotation is being examined, in which Piron and Sa’ar will alternate as education minister after two years. The officials said this scenario is unlikely to be accepted, since both parties want the first rotation.

Meanwhile, the tension in Likud surrounding the appointment of ministers to the upcoming government has calmed down somewhat after the announcement that the cabinet will include only 20 ministers. Netanyahu managed to force a non-uniform key on his coalition partners, so that while Yesh Atid, Habayit Hayehudi and apparently even Yisrael Beitenu will receive portfolios based on the key of one minister for every four Knesset seats, Likud will receive portfolios according to a key of 1:3. That means that all the incumbent ministers can continue to serve. The generous key for Likud will probably enable Netanyahu to fill seven ministerial positions with members of his party.

Today there are seven Likud ministers who see themselves continuing in the next cabinet: Moshe Ya’alon, Gideon Sa’ar, Yuval Steinitz, Gilad Erdan, Limor Livnat, Yisrael Katz and Silvan Shalom. Another minister, Yuli Edelstein, plans to run for the job of Knesset speaker and won’t be serving in the next cabinet.

A cabinet meeting in July 2012Credit: Emil Salman
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: Emil Salman / Haaretz Archive

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