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(photo credit: Channel 2 [file])
Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu intends to appoint a large cabinet and will not limit it to 18 ministers, as he did when he became prime minister in 1996, sources close to him said Tuesday.
Netanyahu believes he was not given sufficient credit for keeping his first government small, and that it only gave him aggravation from unsatisfied ministerial candidates in and out of his Likud Party.
The next cabinet could have reached a record number of ministers had Kadima or Labor been willing to form a national-unity government.
But though he will likely be setting up a narrow coalition of the 65 MKs on the Right, Netanyahu still plans to name at least 22 ministers, on the basis of one for every three coalition MKs.
"We will try to form a coalition as fast as possible," a source close to Netanyahu said. "He will still meet with [Kadima leader Tzipi] Livni and [Labor chairman Ehud] Barak on Friday, but we decided not to wait for them to begin coalition talks, because we cannot waste time when we only have 28 days to form a government."
Netanyahu appointed a coalition negotiating team on Tuesday that will include MKs Gideon Sa'ar and Ze'ev Elkin, former ministers Yaakov Neeman and Eliezer Sandberg, and journalist Natan Eshel.
The first coalition talks will take place with Israel Beiteinu, Shas and United Torah Judaism on Wednesday at Ramat Gan's Kfar Maccabiah Hotel.
The Likud intends to keep the Finance and Education portfolios for itself. Former foreign minister Silvan Shalom is considered the front-runner to return to return to his former post, but MK Yuval Steinitz also considers himself a candidate for the position.
Netanyahu reportedly asked Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer on Tuesday to be his finance minister, but Fischer politely turned him down, saying he did not want a political position. The Likud denied that Netanyahu had offered him the post.
Likud MK Dan Meridor has been touted as a candidate for the Defense, Foreign Affairs, Finance and Justice ministries. Sa'ar, who is Netanyahu's No. 2 in the party, is the leading candidate for the Justice portfolio.
Moshe Ya'alon, a former IDF chief of General Staff, will either be defense or education minister.
Israel Beiteinu will ask for the Foreign Ministry for party chairman Avigdor Lieberman, the Justice Ministry for current minister Daniel Friedmann, a non-MK who was originally appointed by Kadima, the Public Security Ministry for MK Uzi Landau or MK Yitzhak Aharonovich, and an economic portfolio for MK Stas Meseznikov.
Shas expects to receive the Interior Ministry for party chairman Eli Yishai, and the Construction and Housing Ministry for his No. 2, MK Ariel Attias. The party also wants the Religious Services Ministry to remain in the hands of MK Yitzhak Cohen and a minister-without-portfolio position in the Education Ministry for MK Meshulam Nahari.
A battle has begun in UTJ over the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee, between MKs Ya'acov Litzman and Moshe Gafni. The party will also likely have two deputy ministers.
Coalition talks with Habayit Hayehudi and the National Union will begin on Thursday. Habayit Hayehudi intends to ask for the Education portfolio for party chairman Daniel Herschkowitz, even though they know they will not receive it. They have not yet decided on a fallback option.
Netanyahu is considering Likud MK Ayoub Kara as a minister in charge of minorities. Netanyahu reportedly promised the Druse lawmaker that he would be a minister, continuing the tradition of appointing a minority minister after Ghaleb Majadle, also a Druse, became the first Arab minister under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Following a custom of American presidents, Netanyahu appointed a team on Tuesday to plan his first 100 days in office. The team, chaired by Steinitz, will include MK Gilad Erdan, former Kadima MK Avigdor Yitzhaki, and Netanyahu policy advisers Ron Dermer and Uzi Arad.
Yitzhaki has been a frequent critic of Kadima leader Tzipi Livni since he left that party in January.
Opposition to Livni's plan to keep Kadima out of the government has been growing among the party's leadership in recent days, but none of the party's top brass has been willing to criticize her publicly, due in part to Livni's power to appoint ministers if the party ever joins a coalition in the future.
"The citizens did not give us 28 mandates so that we would sit in the opposition," Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz told Army Radio on Tuesday, in the closest thing to public criticism of Livni that there has been in the party.
"We have great challenges, and we need to address them from within the government," he said, emphasizing, however, that "if in the end we don't reach an agreement regarding the platform and a change in the system of government, then we will go to the opposition."
Mofaz dispelled rumors that he was considering breaking off from Kadima with other MKs if the party did not join the coalition.
"Tzipi Livni is right to be testing, checking and clarifying the platform on which a unity government could be built," he said. "It doesn't matter what her decision is, I'll still stay with the Kadima Party."