Shas chairman and Economy Minister Arye Dery said on Wednesday that the coalition partnership is likely to enable Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appoint a Likud Knesset member to replace Danny Danon, even though this will disproportionately increase the number of Likud cabinet members. Danon, the minister of science, technology and space, will be leaving the Knesset and the cabinet to take up his new appointment as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.
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Sources close to Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, head of the Kulanu party, said that he, too, planned to agree to allow Likud to continue to control the Science, Technology and Space Ministry in the event Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman becomes a full cabinet member.
The appointment of a new Likud minister to replace Danon was cast into doubt this week, when the High Court of Justice ruled that Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party must either take on the full ministerial title – Netanyahu is nominally the minister of health, as a workaround for UTJ’s refusal to take on ministerial positions – or relinquish the deputy ministerial position.
In accordance with the coalition agreements, Likud received the ministerial position that was set aside for UTJ as a coalition partner, thus increasing its weight in the cabinet vis-a-vis the other parties in the government. Now that it appears that Litzman will become health minister in name as well as in practice, Likud should accordingly “return” UTJ’s cabinet position.
Now Dery has said that Shas will not demand that Likud give up a cabinet seat to Litzman. “We won’t engage in petty accounting with Litzman and won’t demand that his cabinet appointment comes at Likud’s expense,” Dery said in a briefing Wednesday morning with parliamentary correspondents.
“Litzman told me yesterday that Kahlon said the appointment wouldn’t be at Likud’s expense. I told him that what’s good enough for Kahlon is good enough for us,” Dery said.
Dery told the reporters that he regretted not having put all his political weight after the March election in forming a unity government with Zionist Union. “It would have been possible to form the government more quickly and to work to establish a broad government,” Dery said. He said he did not consider for a moment that Yisrael Beiteinu chairman and former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman would refuse to join the coalition. Dery said that at the time he himself feared that if Zionist Union joined the coalition, chairman Isaac Herzog would rob Lieberman of the foreign affairs portfolio.
“I viewed Lieberman as part of the [coalition of] 67 MKs. If you put Herzog in the coalition, everyone’s fighting to be foreign minister. That’s why I kept a low profile,” he said.
Dery reported being “very surprised” by Lieberman’s decision to go into the opposition. He said he believed the fragile coalition government would endure at least to the end of 2017, and that he did not expect additional parties to join the government.
“The chance today of expanding the government with Zionist Union is very small, but not hopeless,” Dery said, adding that none of the other opposition parties would join the coalition. “The two leaders of Zionist Union have a desire to join the government, but desire alone isn’t enough,” he said.