Orly Levy-Abecassis & Ze'ev Elkin..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Nearly half way to the initial deadline for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new government, there is still a long way to go.
Likud negotiating team members have criticized the Bayit Yehudi, Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu teams for asking for too much. There are also too many Likud MKs who expect to be ministers in the next government, which could be a problem if the next cabinet is limited to only 18.
And even United Torah Judaism and Shas, whose teams have been making the most progress, have slowed down the entire process by refusing to hold negotiations during the intermediate days of the Passover holiday.
As the situation gets more and more desperate, more creative solutions will have to be considered.
The idea discussed most often is abandoning Bayit Yehudi and building a government with the Zionist Union instead. But that is far from the only solution available to the Likud’s negotiating team, which includes the two savvy political operators who have run Netanyahu’s coalitions over the past six years, MKs Ze’ev Elkin and Yariv Levin.
One idea that has been recommended to Elkin and Levin is to build a coalition of 63 MKs instead of 67. Rather than include all six Yisrael Beytenu MKs, split the faction and take only two: Orly Levy-Abecassis and Sharon Gal.
Levy-Abecassis is the daughter of former Likud minister David Levy and sister of new Likud MK Jackie Levy.
A respected, socioeconomically- minded lawmaker, the Likud tried to woo her to its slate three months ago, but she stayed because Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman placed her second on his list and guaranteed her a portfolio.
Now that Liberman has broken that promise, perhaps the Likud can take her away. Giving her the Welfare portfolio could help the Likud reclaim its former socioeconomic image.
It would also solve the problem of Netanyahu having to give a top portfolio to the Likud’s top woman, MK Miri Regev. She is number five on the Likud list, but Levy-Abecassis is number two on Yisrael Beytenu’s.
Left in the opposition without her and Gal, Yisrael Beytenu would be an irrelevant Russian-immigrant party, with no native Israeli-Jewish MKs. The Likud could destroy it permanently by giving the Ukraine-born Elkin the Immigrant Absorption portfolio and helping that constituency.
Why take two Yisrael Beytenu MKs and not six? Because Liberman is demanding the Defense or Foreign Affairs portfolio, and Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett rightfully says that if Liberman gets one of those portfolios with only six Knesset seats, he, with eight, deserves the other.
Once Liberman is out of the picture, the Likud, with its 32 MKs, would unquestionably keep both of those posts. After all, it would now be four times the size of Bayit Yehudi.
That would enable Netanyahu to reward not only Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon for his loyalty, but also his number two in the Likud, Interior Minister Gilad Erdan, who could become foreign minister.
Such an appointment would show that Netanyahu learned from the mistake of mistreating his last number two in the party, former minister Gideon Sa’ar.
The Justice portfolio, which is now Erdan’s second choice, could then be given to Levin, a longtime vice chairman of the Israel Bar Association and an outspoken proponent of reforms in the Israeli legal establishment.
Without Yisrael Beytenu, the electoral reforms the party has blocked could be implemented, as could concessions to Shas and UTJ that might make the next government more stable.
Other potential coalition partners would all be deterred by such a bold move. Perhaps it would even ease the appetite of Kulanu, whose former Kadima elements have been blamed for issuing too many demands. These elements know better than anyone how splitting a party could destroy it, for it was Elkin who was the architect of those moves.
Both Elkin and Levin have said emphatically that no one was working on splitting Yisrael Beytenu and that they did not believe such a move could be accomplished. But perhaps as the deadline approaches, such creativity could come into play.
It could take a splitting solution to end the coalition conundrum that has become a splitting headache.