Defense minister-designate Avigdor Lieberman met Thursday with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who is in charge of the negotiations to bring Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party into the coalition. The sides hope to seal the deal before the Knesset convenes on Monday for its summer session.
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For now it appears that Lieberman's party will receive - in addition to the defense minister post for its chairman - the immigrant absorption portfolio, a deputy Knesset speaker position and one seat each on the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and the socioeconomic cabinet. In addition, MK Orli Levi-Abekasis may be named chairwoman of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee or the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.
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According to sources involved in the negotiations, there is no disagreement over the positions that were offered to Yisrael Beiteinu. What remains is to find the additional money to fund the line items that are part of the party's conditions for joining the government and to draw up an agreement amenable to both sides.
Speaking to Haaretz, Levin said before the meeting that he hoped to complete the deal with Lieberman by the end of the day. The coalition teams were scheduled to reconvene on Thursday afternoon.
The main problem at the moment is getting funds from the Finance Ministry to pay for the increased pensions for immigrants from the former Soviet Union and for mortgages for these immigrants that cover 90 percent of a home's purchase price, Levin said. "This will be solved in the course of the day. In any event, the talks won't fall through over this," said a source close to the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A senior Likud figure who asked not to be named spelled out some of the likely cabinet changes the deal with Yisrael Beiteinu will precipitate. In return for giving up the immigrant absorption portfolio, Zeev Elkin, who is also minister of Jerusalem affairs and heritage, is expected to be appointed economy and industry minister with limited authorities. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu currently holds that portfolio. The "labor" part of what was once called the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry will be delegated to Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz. It is not yet clear who will get the post of foreign minister, currently held by Netanyahu, and what position Moshe Ya'alon will fill after he cedes the Defense Ministry to Lieberman.
The biggest loser in the government shake-up is expected to be the chairman of the Kulanu party, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. He has long been pushing to bring the Zionist Union into the coalition in an effort to rein in the more radical elements, especially with regard to the government's attitude to the High Court of Justice and legislation. Kahlon is now likely to be the most moderate figure in a government that can only be described as right-wing. Kulanu's Knesset members were scheduled to convene in the Upper Galilee town of Ma'alot-Tarshiha on Thursday afternoon to discuss the political bombshell.