Knesset to vote on canceling limit on ministers in next government

Coalition talks impasse continues; major parties haven’t submitted candidates for State Comptroller

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May 20, 2019 00:21
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting. (photo credit: YANIR COZIN / MAARIV)

 
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The Knesset is expected to vote in a first reading to cancel the 2013 law limiting the number of ministers in a government to 18, following Sunday’s cabinet approval of the move.


The bill, which will have to go through three votes in the Knesset, the first of which is expected to take place Monday evening, would allow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appoint as many ministers as he needs to complete coalition negotiations.
The negotiations have been at an impasse for the past week, and no progress was made as of Sunday night. The deadline for Netanyahu to form a government is Tuesday, May 28.


Netanyahu lamented that potential coalition partners are making outlandish demands and need to be more realistic.


“I hope that we will find a way, as soon as possible, to bring them back to reality so that we can form a strong and stable government for the State of Israel that will continue to lead the country to new heights,” he said.


If Netanyahu forms a government with all of the other right-wing parties in the Knesset, it is expected to have 26-28 ministers, along with several deputy ministers.


To make that possible, some of the existing ministries are expected to be split into parts, including Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy, Science and Technology, Labor and Social Services, and Culture and Sport – which were already broken off from the Education Ministry – and others.


In addition, the approved proposal states that if the number of ministers and deputy ministers is over 35, “balancing action” must be taken to offset the budgetary cost.


The cabinet canceled a law passed in 2013, pushed by Yesh Atid. After the 2015 election, the government passed a temporary measure allowing three more ministers to be appointed; the cabinet voted to fully cancel the law. The last government had 21 ministers, and the record-holder was Netanyahu’s 2009 government with 30 ministers and 9 deputy ministers. His smallest cabinet in 1996 had 18 ministers, when a law was in place limiting the maximum number.


The reasoning behind the laws limiting the number of ministers is to avoid government waste; the current move is expected to cost hundreds of millions of shekels over the next four years.


Compounding that expense is that potential coalition partners have already agreed to implement the “Norwegian Law” – which allows ministers to resign from the Knesset and for the next person on the party’s list to take their place – but for the ministers to re-take their place in the Knesset and for the newer MK to automatically be removed if the minister leaves the cabinet for any reason. As a result, there will be more salaries paid by the government’s coffers for new MKs and their three aides each.


Blue and White MK Zvi Hauser, who was Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary when there were 30 ministers, came out strongly against the move, asking Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to prevent the government from conducting the vote. Hauser’s argument was that an interim government should not work to change a Basic Law, which is akin to an article in a constitution – which Israel does not have.


“The government can inflate its expenses, but it cannot trample basic norms on ways of legislation and the necessary public debate,” Hauser said.
Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg said canceling the limit on the number of ministers is a preview of what Netanyahu has planned.


“Netanyahu is willing to give anything to get immunity, and any law can be changed,” she said. “I call on members of the coalition being formed – don’t let Netanyahu change Basic Laws for the sake of personal whims. Vote with us.”


IN ADDITION to the expected vote on expanding the number of ministers, parties in the Knesset will submit their nominees for the role of State Comptroller on Monday.


A day before the deadline, no party has yet announced its candidate.


Hebrew University political science Prof. Avraham Diskin was thought to be Likud’s leading candidate, but Netanyahu backed down from the idea due to haredi opposition.


The current leading candidate in the Likud is Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director-general of the Population and Immigration Bureau and former director-general of the National Insurance Administration.


The Union of Right-Wing Parties (URP) will not support a candidate who is a retired judge, Channel 12 reported.


The vote for the State Comptroller is set for June 3, the final legal date before current Comptroller Joseph Shapira finishes his term on July 4. The vote takes place in the Knesset, with a private ballot.


Because the vote is secret, the Blue and White Party is seeking a candidate who some members of the likely coalition could support, making it possible for the vote results to go against Netanyahu’s candidate.


As such, the party abandoned its previous preferred candidate, Law Prof. Yifat Biton, who is associated with the Left and ran in the last election with the Gesher Party, which failed to obtain the minimum 3.5% of the votes to enter the Knesset.


COALITION TALKS remained stalled on Sunday night. Likud sources involved in the talks stuck to Netanyahu’s message that the potential partners were demanding too much, saying that therefore, they have not scheduled any meetings for further negotiations this week, notwithstanding the rapidly-approaching May 28 deadline.


In addition, sources close to the negotiations view the dispute between Yisrael Beytenu and Shas and UTJ over haredi enlistment in the IDF as “the domino that, once it’s knocked down, all the others will fall into place.”


UTJ MK Uri Maklev expressed frustration at the Likud: “The behavior at the moment is something that we’ve never seen. There is no progress. We behaved responsibly. We did not make declarations or lit unnecessary fires. The Likud still hasn’t answered us about our comments on the enlistment bill.”


Still, Maklev said in an interview with Army Radio: “No one wants to be the first to sign with Netanyahu.”


Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman announced last Monday that he refused to negotiate until his demands are met, and UTJ would not continue talks until after the Eurovision took place on Saturday because its rehearsals involved the desecration of Shabbat.


URP remained steadfast in its demand that it receive the Justice Ministry and the Education Ministry, as it had in the previous government.


But Netanyahu wants the Likud to retain the Justice Ministry for Yariv Levin, a close ally of the prime minister. Levin and URP MK Bezalel Smotrich, who has been eyeing the portfolio, have similar positions, seeking to curb judicial activism. However, Netanyahu would like the Likud to head the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, as justice ministers always do, which would give him greater control over what bills pass or not.


Influential religious Zionist Rabbi Haim Druckman told Galey Israel Radio on Sunday that without those portfolios, there won’t be a government.


“What is this? Parties with four seats can get the Finance Ministry and [URP] gets nothing [with six]?” he asked. “Even if they offer us the Public Security Ministry, we won’t go in. [URP] is a good boy, so we deserve a spit in the face?”


Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman met on Sunday, but would not provide further details of the meeting. Kahlon’s spokesman denied that they discussed coalition talks.

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