Likud Surrenders Education Ministry to Yesh Atid, but Keeps Interior Ministry

Israel's new government will be sworn in on Monday.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Yesh Atid won the protracted battle for the Education Ministry last night as an agreement was reached with Likud paving the way for a new government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to meet party leaders Yair Lapid ‏(Yesh Atid‏) and Naftali Bennett ‏(Habyit Hayehudi‏) Thursday to sign the coalition agreements and the new government could be sworn in next Monday.

Yesh Atid’s MK Shay Piron will be appointed education minister, while Likud keeps the Interior Ministry and Habayit Hayehudi will chair the Knesset Finance Committee, in the agreement reached Wednesday afternoon.

The cabinet will be expanded to 22 ministers, including the prime minister, to enable Hatnuah, headed by Tzipi Livni, to have the Environmental Protection Ministry as well as the Justice Ministry.

Likud members slammed Netanyahu, branding him the “big loser” of the negotiations. Yesh Atid, Habayit Hayehudi and Yisrael Beiteinu “extorted major portfolios and left very few to Likud,” one party source said. An eruption of resentment against the prime minister was being predicted by discontented party members.

Bennett mediated between Lapid and the prime minister throughout Wednesday to extract the coalition talks from their quagmire and reach a formula they could both agree on. Lapid and Netanyahu each had insisted on the education portfolio, while Bennett, Lapid and Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman each demanded the chairmanship of the Finance Committee.

It was also agreed Wednesday to give Yisrael Beiteinu one more portfolio, while the number of Likud’s ministers was reduced to seven.

Yesh Atid sources said that apart from the Foreign Ministry, which Lapid wanted and failed to get, the party had pressured Netanyahu to reduce the cabinet from 31 to 22 ministers, the plan to conscript Haredi men was only slightly modified, and the party received the education portfolio, despite Gideon Sa’ar’s determined campaign to keep it.

In addition, Yesh Atid is expected to receive the Health Ministry for Yael German, the Social Affairs Ministry for Meir Cohen and the Science Ministry for Jacob Perry. Yesh Atid MKs will also head the Knesset’s prestigious Education Committee, the Immigrants Absorption Committee and the Committee for Women’s Status.

Habayit Hayehudi MKs also boast considerable achievements. Bennett will serve as deputy prime minister as well as economics and trade minister. He will also have the Jerusalem and Diaspora portfolio and be formally appointed religious affairs minister, though MK Eli Ben Dahan, of Bennett’s party, will actually serve in this post.

MK Uri Orbach ‏(Habyit Hayehudi‏) is being tapped as minister for pensioners’ affairs, while MK Nissan Slomiansky or MK Ayelet Shaked may be appointed to chair the prestigious Finance Committee.

Yisrael Beiteinu obtained several positions as well. Lieberman will head the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and also have the foreign affairs portfolio − if he is acquitted in his trial for breach of trust. His party also received the agriculture portfolio, progably for Yair Shamir, the public security portfolio, to be kept by Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich, and the tourism portfolio, likely for Uzi Landau.

Lieberman is still demanding the chairmanship of another Knesset committee for MK Faina Kirshenbaum.

The recriminations in Likud began Wednesday before the official distribution of cabinet portfolios was made known.

“Bibi sold out Likud to remain prime minister,” said a senior party member, who may become one of Netanyahu’s bitter rivals on the day after the cabinet is sworn in.

“Lieberman managed to twist his arm and arrange significant positions for all the top people in his faction,” he said.

“The Likud ministers are keeping quiet because they’re afraid for their status until the official swearing in, but one thing should be clear: apart from Moshe Ya’alon and Yisrael Katz, who received the ministries they wanted [defense and transportation, respectively], all the others have a sense of failure. Bibi is the one responsible and this feeling will erupt soon,” he said.

Sources close to the Likud negotiation team said the conditions imposed on them were impossible.

“After Shelly ‏(Yacimovich‏) refused to enter the government on any terms, Yair Lapid refused to serve in the same government as the ultra-Orthodox and Bennett refused to serve without Yair Lapid, Likud managed to get back the Defense Ministry and keep the Foreign Ministry and the highest number of ministers per MKs,” one source said.

Late last night a conflict was still ranging among the Likud ministers over the remaining portfolios. Ministers Gideon Sa’ar and Gilad Erdan, who lost their current ministries ‏(education and environment, respectively‏) are both expected to contend for the post of interior minister. The loser is expected to run for the infrastructures portfolio, probably against Silvan Shalom. The third important ministry is Home Front Defense, followed by Negev and Galilee Development.

Minister Yuval Steinitz could be appointed minister of intelligence and strategic affairs. Minister Limor Livnat is expected to contend for the Culture and Sports Ministry, which she holds now, with MK Gila Gamliel, who is considered close to Netanyahu.

Observers say that if MK Tzachi Hanegbi is not upgraded to a ministerial post he will serve as coalition whip instead of MK Ze’ev Elkin. Elkin is being tapped as a deputy minister, perhaps in charge of the settlement division in the Defense Ministry.

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