(photo credit: KNESSET SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 20-minister government was sworn in late Thursday night, following a day full of problems with Likud appointments to his cabinet. The Knesset approved the government 61-59 just after 11 p.m. on Thursday.
Netanyahu’s No. 2 in the Likud, MK Gilad Erdan, refused to enter the cabinet, declining the prime minister’s offer to serve as public security minister. He had demanded the Foreign Ministry, which Netanyahu has kept for himself in case he will be able to expand his coalition later on. But Erdan later showed up at the Knesset and voted in favor of the new government, enabling it to be approved by the Knesset.
"The swearing-in of a Likud government is a happy occasion but I am sad personally about the developments with me," Erdan said.
Initially, several ministers also declined Netanyahu’s offers, including new Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, Culture and Sport Minister \Miri Regev, Pensioners Affairs Minister Gila Gamliel and coalition chairman and Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzachi Hanegbi – but they all later relented.
To accept the challenging job of heading a coalition with just 61 MKs, Netanyahu had to promise Hanegbi that after a year he would join the cabinet in place of Ophir Akunis, who is a minister-without-portfolio. Netanyahu wanted Akunis to serve under him in the Communications Ministry, but Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein ruled that two ministers cannot serve in one ministry.
MK Ayoub Kara was rushed to Hadassah-University Medical Center in Ein Kerem from the Knesset with chest pains, but returned in good health and agreed to become a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in charge of regional cooperation. MK Avi Dichter refused Netanyahu’s offer to become deputy defense minister in charge of home front security.
Amid the challenges, Sunday’s cabinet meeting was canceled and the traditional photo of ministers at the President’s Residence was postponed to next week. President Reuven Rivlin arrived at the Knesset around 7 p.m., found out that the swearing-in was postponed by two hours, returned home and came back later.
Netanyahu told the Knesset that all the problems building his government proved that the electoral system needs to be changed.
“The current system encourages exaggerated demands by parties and individuals,” Netanyahu said. In his speech, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein called the need to change the system “the elephant in the room.”
Netanyahu turned to Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog and pleaded with him to join the government in order to help change the system. But Herzog rejected the offer in a fiery address, mocking his desire to advise the world on how to negotiate with Iran after he botched the coalition talks.
“This is not the government the people wanted,” Herzog said, turning to Netanyahu. “Your partners swindled you. What you created was a circus. Your mentors Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Menachem Begin would have been embarrassed of you. Your way is not my way. My way is the way of the Labor movement that founded this country. Give the Foreign Ministry to one of your MKs. No decent leader would join your circus.”
When Netanyahu said his new government would pursue peace, opposition MKs laughed at him. Arab MKs played a tape of Netanyahu complaining about the Arab turnout in the March 17 election, heckled the prime minister, and then were expelled from the plenum.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely defended Netanyahu’s choice to have her run the ministry, which he will formally head. Hotovely opposes a Palestinian state but she said she would explain abroad the policies of Netanyahu, who backs two states for two peoples.
“The people of Israel elected a nationalist government,” Hotovely said. “Choosing an ideological candidate like me was a statement of values by the prime minister.”
Former prime minister Ehud Barak told Channel 2 that the appointments of Hotovely and others would not make it easier to handle relations with North America and Western Europe.
“We need to be wise,” he said, “not just to be correct, but also smart.”