With 36 Ministers, New Israeli Government Will Be the Largest in Country's History

The coalition agreement signed Monday between Netanyahu and Gantz gives half of the 32 government ministries to Netanyahu’s Likud and its political allies and half to Gantz’s Kahol Lavan and the Labor party

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Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu at the prime minister's residence after signing the coalition deal, April 20, 2020.
Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu at the prime minister's residence after signing the coalition deal, April 20, 2020.
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The new Israeli government that will emerge from the unity government deal signed Monday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz is ultimately expected have up to 36 cabinet ministers and up to 16 deputy ministers, making it the largest in the country’s history.

That poses a special challenge for Netanyahu’s main coalition partner, Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party, which only has 15 Knesset members, most of whom will become cabinet ministers, leaving almost none of the remaining members to be appointed to Knesset committees.

The coalition agreement signed Monday provides for the heads of 32 ministries to be divided equally between Netanyahu’s Likud party, on one hand, and Kahol Lavan and its Labor party ally on the other. It also states that the Likud and Kahol Lavan are entitled to share their cabinet slots with any other parties that they bring into the coalition government.

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Kahol Lavan announced on Monday that it would be naming an Arab Israeli who is not from within the ranks of its Knesset faction to one of the cabinet posts and does not at this stage expect to appoint any deputy ministers.

Likud is to be given the Knesset speaker’s position for the entirety of the government's tenure and Netanyahu confidant Yariv Levin is expected to take up the position. Netanyahu also reserved the right to appoint four ambassadors to top diplomatic posts, apparently as a way of providing high-profile positions to senior Likud politicians who might otherwise have found themselves at the cabinet table. The expected new ambassadorial appointments are to the United Nations, Britain, France and Australia.

Each of the two party blocs will have the chairmanship of seven Knesset committees. The parties will also be seeking to greatly expand the so-called Norwegian law, which allows cabinet members to resign their Knesset seats, thereby freeing up the seats for other members of their parties. It would permit the resignation from parliament of five Kahol Lavan Knesset members and two from Likud.

There is a complication, however, when it comes to Kahol Lavan, whose Knesset delegation splintered when Gantz agreed to join a government headed by Netanyahu. It is unclear whether the amendment necessary to meet Kahol Lavan’s political needs would pass.

When a minister resigns, the current law provides that the next in line on the slate that the party ran on in the election would fill the vacant seat. In Kahol Lavan’s case, unless the law is changed, that would result in new Knesset members who are no longer affiliated with Kahol Lavan – members of the Yesh Atid and Telem factions, which broke ranks with Gantz and left Kahol Lavan and who will be in the Knesset's opposition.

The new cabinet will be particularly large when compared to its counterparts in the country’s early years. According to Ofer Kenig of the Israel Democracy Institute, between 1949 and 1955, the cabinets had either 12 or 13 ministers.

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