Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a significant step toward forming his next government Wednesday when he signed coalition deals in the Likud faction’s office at the Knesset with the heads of Kulanu and United Torah Judaism.
The deals gave Netanyahu the support of 46 MKs from Kulanu, UTJ and his Likud.
He has until next Wednesday to complete a 67-MK coalition with Bayit Yehudi, Shas and Yisrael Beytenu.
Other parties are not being pursued to join the coalition.
But the deal signed with Kulanu and UTJ includes a clause that could facilitate a national unity government with the Zionist Union later on.
Netanyahu met for five hours late Tuesday night with Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett before ending their meeting at 4 a.m. Netanyahu agreed to give Bennett the Education portfolio and let him keep one of his current posts, Diaspora affairs minister.
Bennett’s No. 2, MK Uri Ariel, is to be agriculture minister and Bayit Yehudi faction head Ayelet Shaked is to be culture and sport minister.
Progress was reported Wednesday with Shas, where party head Arye Deri may receive Bennett’s current Economy portfolio as well as the Negev and Galilee Ministry.
Deri’s No. 2, MK Yitzhak Cohen, could become a second minister in Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon’s Finance Ministry.
The Likud decided to initially form a government with 16 ministers and then pass a bill delaying the implementation of a law passed in the last Knesset limiting the number of ministers to 18. An additional minister from every coalition party would then be appointed.
Sources close to Netanyahu lashed out at Likud ministers, who have complained that the prime minister did not leave enough plum portfolios for his own party.
“The complainers and crybabies are nonsense and completely disconnected from reality,” an associate of the prime minister said. “Netanyahu personally brought the Likud a great achievement of 30 seats, while he and his family were attacked.
Now Netanyahu is fighting so that the Likud will have 12 ministers in the next government, including important portfolios like Defense; Transportation; Justice; Interior; National Infrastructure, Energy and Water; Public Security; Welfare and Social Services; Communications; Tourism and more.”
The coalition deals signed Wednesday give UTJ the Health Ministry and Kulanu the Finance, Construction, and Environmental Protection portfolios.
Aside from Kahlon, Kulanu has not yet decided who to install as its other two ministers.
The party was given one deputy minister post. It has not yet been decided whether it will be socioeconomic or if it will be a deputy foreign minister post for MK Michael Oren.
Although Kulanu had lobbied for control of the Knesset Finance Committee, which UTJ wanted, it settled instead for the creation of a new reform committee responsible for coordinating structural reforms, which it is to lead. It managed to get the Interior Ministry’s planning authority, which has power over the housing market, moved to the Finance Ministry.
“We got everything we asked for,” a spokesman for the party said, saying that the party will control the governmental organs most relevant to the housing and banking reforms Kahlon promised during the campaign.
Passing both reforms was part of the coalition agreement.
Netanyahu praised Kahlon, saying, “We promised during the election campaign to lower the cost of housing and the cost of living, to implement a number of reforms and to continue to improve Israel’s economy.”
He said Israel’s economy already stands out from those of its allies in the West that are moving downward, while it continues on a path of financial growth. The prime minister said that both he and Kahlon, as well as everyone else who will sit in the emerging government, have the best interest of the public at heart and hope to better the citizens’ situation by continuing to grow the economy and letting everyone enjoy the fruits of this growth.
Kahlon said that the lengthy coalition negotiation process had focused on securing the proper tools to help implement reforms that would not aim to help one sector of Israeli society but, rather, the whole society. He said the new government would pursue reforms in housing and the banking sector and would act to close economic gaps.
“The Israeli economy is in need of reforms, and we in Kulanu, together with the Likud, the prime minister and other ministers, understand how to lead these reforms,” Kahlon said.
Upon signing the deal with UTJ, Netanyahu said: “We worked together in the last government for the greater good of the State of Israel. We did big things. We have an opportunity to return to that now. There is a strong will to make things happen.”
UTJ head Ya’acov Litzman thanked Netanyahu and the Likud’s negotiating committee for coming to an agreement, saying that it covered “a lot of social items, such as issues relating to childcare and dental care.”
“There are many more things, which included fixing issues that were distorted,” he said, referring to the Ultra-Orthodox Draft Law passed in the last Knesset by Yesh Atid.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid accused Netanyahu of “selling out the country’s values” to build a coalition. He vowed to prevent the implementation of a clause in the deal with UTJ that would eliminate criminal sanctions on haredi draft dodgers.Niv Elis, Daniel Clinton and Michelle Malka Grossman contributed to this report.