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Netanyahu Struggles to Find Enough Ministries to Appease Disgruntled Lawmakers

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Netanyahu speaking to Likud lawmakers at a faction meeting in Jerusalem, February 9, 2020
Netanyahu speaking to Likud lawmakers at a faction meeting in Jerusalem, February 9, 2020Credit: Emil Salman
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Even with 16 ministries to hand out to members of his right-wing bloc, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lacks jobs – in particular, prestigious ones – for all the senior members of his own Likud party who have been left without them.

Consequently, after a long day of hand-wringing and arguments, the inauguration of the new government was postponed until noon on Sunday to give him more time to finish divvying up the portfolios.

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Thursday evening, Netanyahu announced that outgoing Justice Minister Amir Ohana will become the public security minister, while outgoing Culture Minister Miri Regev, who wanted the Public Security Ministry, will become transportation minister.

But he has yet to find jobs for six current ministers – Yuval Steinitz, Tzachi Hanegbi, Tzipi Hotovely, Eli Cohen, Yoav Gallant and Gila Gamliel. Nor has he found positions for two other people who view themselves as deserving: Former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and former chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Avi Dichter.

The only portfolios he has left to give to somebody are education, energy and intelligence affairs. Consequently, he’s trying to invent new ministries, such as a Cybersecurity Ministry, and split some existing ministries into two.

Further, Netanyahu has revived an old proposal to split the Education Ministry, thereby creating one ministry in charge of preschool through high school and another in charge of higher education. He offered the latter to Gamliel, but she refused, saying she wants the whole education portfolio.

Amsalem wanted the Jerusalem affairs portfolio, but has since been appointed to the new Knesset Liasion Ministry, while Hanegbi and Dichter, who haven’t even been invited to Netanyahu’s office to discuss a position, announced that they would boycott the inauguration. Meanwhile, everyone has rejected the prime minister’s offer of an ambassadorship to London or Paris in lieu of a ministry.

As part of his effort to maneuver among these conflicting demands, Netanyahu is trying to give a ministry to all who had one in the outgoing government, even if some will take office only partway through the government’s term.

As for the rest of Yamina, no negotiations are currently underway. United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni and Interior Minister Arye Dery of Shas are trying to mediate between Yamina leader Naftali Bennett and Netanyahu, but the latter refuses to sweeten his last offer – education and Jerusalem affairs alone.

By contrast to Netanyahu, Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz has already finished divvying up his share of the ministries. In fact, he ended up waiving two of the 17 ministries his party was supposed to receive because he lacked enough people to fill them.

For instance, he gave up on the Minority Affairs Ministry he had demanded as part of the coalition agreement. Instead, Kahol Lavan MK Michael Biton will be a minister within the Defense Ministry with social issues like pre-military academies and encouraging enlistment under his purview.

Gantz’s most surprising appointment was Orit Farkash-Hacohen as strategic affairs minister and as a member of the security cabinet. Farkash-Hacohen is a lawyer who specializes in regulation, and she had expected an economic portfolio.

Instead, he made her the only woman from his party to be in the security cabinet. And if Regev doesn’t get a spot in that body, Farkash-Hacohen will be the only woman there, period.

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