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Netanyahu assigning senior portfolios in bid to complete coalition deal

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 Itongadol.- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began assigning cabinet portfolios on Wednesday in a bid to complete a coalition deal by early next week. Minister Moshe Ya’alon, a former military chief of staff, is expected to take the defense ministry, while Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennettis expected to get finance.

The agreement signed with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah party is likely to be reopened, senior officials from Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu said Wednesday, because demands by other potential Likud partners leave it no choice.
The Foreign Ministry Wednesday became the main stumbling block to an agreement between Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu and Yesh Atid. Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid insists on having this portfolio, while Netanyahu has repeatedly refused, promising to hold it in reserve for Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman, who held the post in the last government, resigned upon being indicted for breach of trust, but intends to return if acquitted.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Yehuda Weinsteindecided it was legal for Netanyahu to hold the Foreign Ministry for Lieberman, despite the chance that this will intimidate witnesses − the Foreign Ministry staffers who will be testifying at his trial.
Yesh Atid sources said the party may consider giving up the Foreign Ministry in exchange for something else of value, such an extra ministry, a prestigious committee chairmanship, or extra funding for socioeconomic goals that the party wants to promote.
But Yesh Atid sources said the party also hasn’t yet received satisfactory answers on other important issues, such as the wording of a new law to draft ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, a formula for changing the system of government, and a deal to institute public transportation on Shabbat.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu will likely strip Hatnuah of the Environmental Protection portfolio, which had been granted it along with the Justice Ministry, because both Bennett and Lapid want to limit the number of cabinet ministers, the officials said. Lapid and Bennett also object to the agreement giving Livni control over negotiations with the Palestinians.
“Netanyahu will tell her that if she doesn’t agree to change the agreement we’ll have to call [new] elections. That will be a death sentence to Livni’s party so she’ll have to agree, ultimately,” the source said.
Habayit Hayehudi MK Uri Ariel is expected to be the next housing minister, while Uri Orbach and Eli Ben Dahan of Habayit Hayehudi and Likud’s Zeev Elkin are candidates for the religious affairs portfolio. Orbach may alternatively receive the culture and sports portfolio.
Lieberman said he assigned MK Faina Kirshenbaum to the post of agriculture minister while Sofa Landver will keep the Immigration Ministry.
Among Likud members, Danny Danon is expected to receive a minor ministry such as tourism, Tzachi Hanegbi is likely to serve as home front defense minister, and Limor Livnat and Haim Katz are strong candidates for the health ministry.
Yesh Atid Wednesday canceled a meeting with Likud’s coalition negotiating team after members of Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu said the next government would have 28 ministers, and not the 18 Lapid had demanded.
“The Likud’s negotiating team told us they couldn’t send incumbent Likud ministers home, so they would have to form a government with 28 ministers,” a Yesh Atid official said. “There’s no chance we’ll be partners in such a swollen government, whose purpose is only to find jobs for the Likud MKs.”
Observers said this could be a joint spin on Netanyahu and Lapid’s part, intended to prepare the ground for slashing the number of ministers.
Several Likud ministers, notably Yuli Edelstein, Yuval Steinitz and Livnat, fear they will lose their cabinet posts. Right now it looks like Likud will receive only eight ministerial portfolios in the next government, in accordance with Lapid’s demand for a significant slimming down of the cabinet.
Another possible appointment is Yesh Atid’s Rabbi Shay Piron as education minister, while Likud’s Silvan Shalom, Gideon Sa’ar and Gilad Erdan see themselves as candidates for the leading economic portfolios − treasury, industry and energy.

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