Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Likud faction meeting, December 3, 2014.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will confront a serious challenge to his leadership next week when he distributes portfolios and other key posts to the Knesset members inside his Likud Party.
Netanyahu completed the arduous process of building his narrow 61-MK coalition Thursday morning, when his representatives signed a deal with Bayit Yehudi. But what could be the most difficult part of the process is still not behind him.
By law, the prime minister has until next Wednesday to appoint his ministers and have them sworn in at the Knesset.
He initially intended to complete the process by Monday, but he delayed the swearing-in because he first intends to pass legislation enabling him to appoint 22 ministers.
The coalition is expected to start the process of passing a bill Monday that would delay the implementation of a law limiting the number of ministers to 18 to the next Knesset.
The legislative process is expected to be completed only Wednesday.
Now that it is clear which portfolios will remain in the Likud, Netanyahu could have already distributed them Thursday. But the prime minister prefers to wait until after the bill enabling the cabinet expansion passes, out of fear that Likud MKs disappointed by their portfolio will take revenge by blocking the bill.
Multiple Likud MKs have reportedly told Netanyahu that they want to know which portfolio they will receive before they commit to vote to expand the cabinet. In a 61-MK coalition, one rebellious lawmaker is enough to prevent legislation from passing.
A source close to Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom vigorously denied a Channel 10 report that Shalom had threatened in private conversations to vote against the cabinet expansion bill and perhaps even to quit politics if he is not satisfied with the portfolio he is offered.
Shalom has asked Netanyahu for the Foreign Affairs portfolio, which he held under former prime minister Ariel Sharon. But Netanyahu’s spokesman, Nir Hefetz, said in interviews that the prime minister intends to keep the Foreign Affairs portfolio for himself in case he becomes able to expand his coalition.
Druse Likud MK Ayoub Kara threatened on Channel 1 that he would prevent the formation of the next government if there will not be a non-Jewish minister, such as himself.
“A government will not be formed that will not include such a minister, who can relay the message that we [non-Jews] are an integral part of the state,” Kara said. “I don’t recommend testing me. This time, there is no way back.”
Kara later released a statement backtracking and saying he never intended to threaten to topple the government. He said he is at a critical juncture in his career and he felt compelled to ensure that the weakest sectors will be helped, especially the Druse.
MK Miri Regev, who at fifth on the Likud list is the party’s highest-ranking woman ever, has threatened a “revolution” if she is not appointed a minister.
When asked about the Likud’s handling of the coalition talks this week, she replied that she did not want to say anything that could jeopardize her future before portfolios are distributed.
The other party leaders will also have to distribute their portfolios by next Wednesday. Shas sources denied reports that party leader Arye Deri offered the Religious Services portfolio to Rehovot Mayor Rahamim Malul, but the sources confirmed that he had offered it to former MK Ariel Atias, who turned it down.
Bayit Yehudi’s central committee will convene Sunday to approve the party’s coalition deal with the Likud. The party’s MKs have started fighting over who will receive the posts Bayit Yehudi received in coalition talks.
In Kulanu, speculation has focused on whether a deputy minister post given to the party could end up being deputy foreign minister for MK Michael Oren. If Netanyahu holds the portfolio himself, his deputy in the ministry could be especially powerful. A spokesman for Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon said no decision has been made yet on who will receive the post.