Tensions Rise Within Likud as Netanyahu Mulls Cabinet Appointments

Prime minister-designate faces disgruntled party colleagues vying for last remaining ministries.

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu plans to hold private meetings with senior members of his Likud party and tell them whether he will appoint them to the cabinet.

Netanyahu is scheduled to swear in his new government by Wednesday; until then he will continue his efforts to draw United Torah Judaism into the coalition so he can expand his Knesset support base to 74 MKs.

The Likud leader is holding three postings open for UTJ as part of a possible coalition agreement: deputy health ministry, the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee, and another deputy minister position.

For the swearing in, Netanyahu will tell President Shimon Peres at the President's Residence that he has succeeded in forming a government.

The weekend, meanwhile, was particularly tense for many senior Likud figures who are unsure whether Netanyahu intends to appoint them to the cabinet.

The prime minister-designate spent the weekend at home in Caesarea in an effort to resolve the shortage of portfolios for Likud. The main focus was MK Silvan Shalom.

In recent days Shalom has sent messages to Netanyahu in which he warned that unless he is appointed finance minister and vice premier, he will not be part of the government.

For his part, Netanyahu insists that he will not surrender to pressure. According to sources close to the prime minister-designate, he will not appoint a vice premier and will keep control of the Finance Ministry.

Netanyahu has said he plans to serve as finance minister with the assistance of another appointee, who will hold the status of a minister but not be in control.

Shalom has so far avoided any public statements, even though his supporters in the party are outraged. Shalom has ordered them to avoid any public protest.

"Bibi really wants to find an appropriate position for Silvan if that is possible, and had no intention to humiliate him," a source close to Netanyahu said, using his nickname. "What Silvan does will be up to him. He will harm himself if he stays outside [the cabinet]. Now that Labor is in the coalition there is no fear that if Silvan votes against the coalition there will be no government."

When asked what is an appropriate position, Netanyahu's supporters said that "he is putting together something for him."

Other senior party figures who might be giving Netanyahu problems may be Moshe Ya'alon and Dan Meridor, both of whom had been promised senior posts.

Ya'alon may be offered a revived Strategic Affairs Ministry. Meridor or Shalom may be offered Vice premier postings with added substance.

Meridor had been mentioned as a candidate for the Finance Ministry if Netanyahu decided not to keep it for himself.

MKs Shalom, Ya'alon, Meridor, Benny Begin, Gilad Erdan, Moshe Kahalon, Yisrael Katz, Limor Livnat and Yuli Edelstein know they will be appointed to ministries, but are worried they might receive minor positions.

The Ministry Education has been promised by Netanyahu to MK Gideon Sa'ar.