Netanyahu Cabinet: Heavy on Coalition Partners, Light on Likud

Netanyahu's rival Shalom to be offered vice-premier, regional development portfolio, short of expectations.

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu met late Sunday night with a handful of close associates to discuss ministerial postings, a move he hopes will ward off bitterness among senior Likud figures. Many of them are waiting for Netanyahu to fulfill promises he supposedly made during the election campaign.

Netanyahu, who is to swear in his cabinet on Tuesday, is expected to keep the Finance Ministry for himself and appoint Yuval Steinitz a minister below him.

Sources close to Netanyahu said he had no intention of appointing someone who would become acting prime minister in case of emergency. That post, and finance minister, are precisely the positions Silvan Shalom had sought; Shalom has communicated to Netanyahu over the past few days that he would prefer no ministerial post at all if Netanyahu does not keep his promise to appoint Shalom to a senior position.

It is believed Netanyahu intends to appoint Shalom as his vice premier and minister for regional development, or minister for economic peace and deputy prime minister, hoping this satisfies Shalom.

Senior Likudniks are reportedly angry that Netanyahu gave so many senior portfolios to his coalition partners and for making them wait until the last moment.

A Netanyahu associate added, however, that "clearly there will be disappointments, but that is the price of a broad, strong, balanced coalition."

The senior coalition partner has only five portfolios: finance, transportation, communications, environmental protection, and culture and sports.

To these, Netanyahu is expected to add a vice premier and minister for strategic affairs, and to split the Communications Ministry to create a Regional Development Ministry and a Ministry for Economic Peace.

Around 15 senior Likud figures will be invited to meet with Netanyahu. He will tell 11 or 12 which portfolios they have received, and will offer deputy minister posts to two.

Netanyahu is not fazed by public criticism of the number of ministries that will result; he is worrying about the promises he made during his campaign. For example, Maj. Gen. Yossi Peled joined Likud two and a half years ago based on Netanyahu's pledge of a ministerial post. Peled has not publicly stated his position, but it is believed he will refuse a post of deputy minister.

Likud's leaders may receive portfolios as follows: Gideon Sa'ar - education (the post has been reserved for him); Yisrael Katz - transportation; Gilad Erdan - environmental protection; Moshe Ya'alon - strategic affairs; Moshe Kahlon - part of communications; Yuli Edelstein - part of communications; Limor Livnat - culture and sport; Dan Meridor - minister without portfolio with responsibility for security issues and member of the security cabinet; Benny Begin - minister without portfolio and member of the security cabinet.

Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak on Sunday gave Avishay Braverman Labor's fifth ministerial post - minister without portfolio with responsibility for minorities. Braverman, who was one of the seven Laborites who opposed Barak's move to join the coalition, said after accepting Barak's offer that he was at peace with his decision.

Orit Noked will be offered deputy minister of industry, trade and labor, a reward for supporting Barak at the Labor Party Convention despite her initial opposition.

However, Barak still faces opposition from Labor rivals Ophir Pines-Paz, Eitan Cabel, Amir Peretz and Yuli Tamir.

The Labor ministers will be: Barak (defense), Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (industry, trade and labor), Shalom Simhon (agriculture) and Isaac Herzog (social affairs). Matan Vilnai will be deputy defense minister.