The new arrival to Israeli politics, Yair Lapid and his Future (Yesh Atid) party, have kicked off the bargaining to join Binyamin Netanyahu’s next government armed with a substantial shopping list for jobs and other demands. debkafile’s political sources report he is claiming the foreign ministry for himself and the right to veto the prime minister’s choice of defense minister in case it is Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s partner as co-leader of Likud-Beitenu.
If Lieberman is kept from his old job as foreign minister, he has told Netanyahu he wants Defense.
Lapid is also refusing to sit in the same government as Shas leader Arie Deri, who served time for fraud – although he does not disqualify the Shas party per se.
The other newcomer, Naftali Bennett, head of Jewish Home (12 seats), has so far posted a single demand for the Religious Affairs portfolio.
Picking his way towards a viable government through the first thickets, Netanyahu has agreed to grant the Future party three portfolios at least – Internal Security or Home Front Security for former Shin Bet director and businessman Yacov Peri; Education for Rabbi Shay Firon; and one of three ministries, Interior, Housing or Trade and Industry, to former Herzliya Mayor Ms Yael German.
Dismayed by the weight of Lapid’s demands, senior Likud officers were heard grumbling Thursday night, Jan. 24: “Anyone would think Yesh Atid had won 61 seats – not 19.” He may think he is indispensible,” said another. “But let’s remind him that Netanyahu managed to run the government quite comfortably for four years against an opposition party of 28 lawmakers. We don’t want to end up with a narrow-based government, but if Lapid pushes us too far, we won’t take fright because we do have other options.”
However, at this early stage of the horse-trading for coalition partners, Netanyahu is being pushed by pressure from Lapid to keep the Defense portfolio in his own hands, having decided not to award it to former chief of staff and senior minister Moshe Yaalon.
This confronts him with the double dilemma of being short of suitable candidates for the two top cabinet posts – defense and treasury. The word going around Likud is that Netanyahu would like to keep overall responsibility for the treasury and the conduct of the national economy for himself and let the finance ministry be administered by a junior minister.
But he can’t shoulder responsibility for both defense and treasury himself.
Lapid’s veto against Deri is another complication for Netanyahu, because it threatens to put Deri’s party Shas out of the running for government.
Bennett’s demand for the Religious Affairs ministry as a precondition for his party to join the new government puts the cat among the chickens. His party put both secular and religious candidates on its slate and ran on a ticket calling for a national debate to revitalize and reform Jewish tenets and bring them up to date with modern times.
His platform is a red flag for the powerful rabbinical establishments inside and outside the political mainstream. If he gets the religious ministry, the two ultra-religious parties will boycott the new government and build a strong front to fight the Bennett reforms.
At the other end of the political spectrum, Labor (which won a disappointing 15 seats) is in high commotion. Its leader, Shelly Yacimovitch, stands by her vow to keep her party out of the Netanyahu coalition and fight his economic and social policies tooth and nail from the opposition – thereby triggering a revolt against her leadership.
She and the party agree to support any moves to revive peace talks with the Palestinians, but, according to debkafile’s sources, at least three of Yacimovitch’s stalwarts – Yitzhak Herzog, Avishay Braverman and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, all former ministers, insist on her opening the door for them to join the government.
So far she has stood up to them.