With Fragile Coalition, Netanyahu Seeks to Expand Cabinet

Netanyahu plans to have the Knesset repeal a law limiting the size of the cabinet; Zionist Union opposition urges MKs to stymie move.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Netanyahu - with campaign propaganda in Russian.
Netanyahu - with campaign propaganda in Russian.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

In a move that underscores the fragility of his new 61-member coalition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to have the Knesset repeal a law limiting the size of the cabinet even before informing members of his Likud party which jobs they will have in the new government.

“Netanyahu is afraid the disappointed ones won’t show up for the vote,” a senior Likud member explained. “In the vote to expand the cabinet, Netanyahu must have 61 supporters, because otherwise, it isn’t possible to change the existing law. In this situation, every disappointed MK who leaves to go to the bathroom can sabotage the government’s functioning.”

Currently, the law limits the cabinet to 18 ministers. Netanyahu plans to have the Knesset abolish that ceiling on Monday, two days before he finally submits his new government to the Knesset for a confidence vote. Likud members said they expect to be informed of their appointments only shortly before the confidence vote.

Zionist Union, meanwhile, plans to take full advantage of the coalition’s fragility. It currently has no intention of joining the government, hoping instead to topple it quickly. To this end, it is demanding that all its MKs attend all votes in the near future and has urged other opposition parties to do the same, in the hope that a few absentees on the government’s side would enable the opposition’s 59 MKs to defeat government proposals.

“I won’t join this government,” Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog declared Thursday. “It’s bad and dangerous for Israel.”

“Starting Monday, the war [begins] to topple Bibi,” added faction chairman Eitan Cabel.

Likud sources said that six senior Likud MKs are candidates for senior or upgraded portfolios, and six junior MKs are candidates for promotion. Two of the senior MKs – Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz – are expected to keep their jobs. The third, Gilad Erdan, is expected to be named deputy prime minister and public security minister, and possibly receive a truncated Interior Ministry as well.

Fourth is Yuval Steinitz, who will likely stay on as strategic and intelligence affairs minister, but may also head the truncated Interior Ministry. Another candidate for intelligence minister is Silvan Shalom, if he doesn’t remain energy and water resources minister.

The sixth senior MK is Benny Begin, who is also a candidate for the intelligence portfolio. But Likud sources said he is more likely to be appointed chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Other candidates to head that committee include Likud MKs Tzachi Hanegbi and Avi Dichter.

Among the younger Likud MKs vying for their first cabinet seat are Zeev Elkin, who is eying either the immigrant absorption or social affairs ministry; Miri Regev and Danny Danon, who also want social affairs; Yariv Levin and Gila Gamliel, who are both thought to want either the tourism or the culture and sports portfolio; and Tzipi Hotovely and Ofir Akunis, who are expected to compete for the Communications Ministry if Netanyahu doesn’t decide to keep that portfolio for himself.

One legislative initiative the new government is expected to try to advance is the so-called NGO Bill, under which any nongovernmental organization seeking a tax exemption for contributions from a foreign state would have to obtain approval from the defense and foreign ministers and the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The NGOs likely to be affected by the bill are primarily human rights organizations identified with the left.

Under the coalition agreement Habayit Hayehudi signed with Likud, the government must submit the bill to the Knesset. But political sources said this bilateral commitment doesn’t oblige other coalition parties to support the bill. A senior Habayit Hayehudi source predicted that the bill would garner a majority within the coalition. But if Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party opposes it, it might have trouble passing the Knesset.

The Palestinian Authority slammed the new government yesterday, saying it would have to choose between settlements and peace talks.

“The Palestinians will continue to briskly pursue its activity on the international stage, by joining international organizations and drafting new proposed resolutions for the UN Security Council, especially in light of the right-wing-settler character of the government,” said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat was far harsher, saying, “This is an extremist government, a government of settlers, which will lead to the complete destruction of the two-state solution. The new justice minister, Ayelet Shaked, called for the annihilation of the Palestinian people and the killing of women and children during the last war in Gaza in the summer.”

The White House said merely that U.S. President Barack Obama looks forward to working with Netanyahu and his new government.

“As President Obama has emphasized, the U.S. places great importance on our close military, intelligence and security cooperation with Israel,” the White House National Security Council said on Twitter.

Jack Khoury and Reuters contributed to this report.

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