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(photo credit: AP)
Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman will meet with Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday to make his demands and reveal his red lines regarding portfolios for his party in the next government.
Over the last few weeks, Lieberman has leaked several demands, including the Foreign Ministry for himself, the Justice portfolio for current minister Daniel Friedmann, the Public Security Ministry for either MK Yitzhak Aharonovitch or MK Uzi Landau, and a top economic portfolio for MK Stas Meseznikov.
But Netanyahu's associates are hoping that Lieberman will show flexibility on at least one of his top demands in Thursday's meeting, to allow the Likud leader to form a government that could last.
They said they hoped Lieberman would agree to accept the Finance portfolio and allow Netanyahu to pacify his Likud nemesis, MK Silvan Shalom, by allowing him to return to the Foreign Ministry.
"Netanyahu knows that when his coalition is [as] unstable as it is, he cannot afford to also have problems inside his own party and that having Shalom as an enemy is very bad," a source close to the Likud leader said. "We are waiting to hear Lieberman's red lines. Lieberman understands that he can push pretty far but that he must stop at some point. He realizes what the public can stand, and he doesn't want the government to fall. We hope that his brains overcome his ambitions."
Sources close to Netanyahu said he did not believe he could stand up to Lieberman, since the Israel Beiteinu leader could prevent him from forming a government by keeping his 15 MKs in the opposition.
They noted he had no choice but to give in to the demands of his coalition partners and put their priorities ahead of those of prospective ministers in the Likud.
"What portfolios Netanyahu has to give out is not in his hands," a veteran Netanyahu adviser said. "The voters decided what they did and created the current situation. This is the hardest and most complicated coalition to build that I have ever seen."
Lieberman's associates said he had not confided in anyone regarding what portfolios to request. They expressed confidence that Lieberman "had a certain game plan and he knows how to play it."
Only after it is clear what portfolios Israel Beiteinu has asked for can Netanyahu start considering what ministries to give to the other coalition partners and MKs in his own party. He met with Shalom for 70 minutes at the Knesset on Wednesday amid reports that Shalom was threatening to punish him if he gave the Foreign Ministry away.
Shalom's associates confirmed that he had asked Netanyahu for the Foreign Ministry and that he had questioned why Israel Beiteinu deserved such a plum portfolio. They said Netanyahu had made a commitment to Shalom before the election that he would be the Likud's top minister.
A source close to Netanyahu denied that he had made such a promise.
The Likud's negotiating team will meet with Israel Beiteinu and Shas representatives for three hours each on Thursday in an effort to draft a coalition agreement with them. Netanyahu met Wednesday with Shas chairman Eli Yishai.
Meanwhile, Labor chairman Ehud Barak will continue his efforts to convince his party's leadership to bring the party into the coalition.
Barak's office denied claims from MK Shelly Yacimovich that he had offered her the Industry, Trade and Labor portfolio in return for stopping her campaign against him.
Labor's kibbutz sector will meet Thursday to protest Barak's intention to take the party into Netanyahu's government. The Labor Young Guard issued an ultimatum giving Barak until Thursday to break off talks with Netanyahu, or it would launch efforts to topple him.
Lieberman launched a fierce attack on Barak on Wednesday, saying, "Barak has already said many things and then later gone back on them."
Speaking during an interview with Army Radio, Lieberman fumed, "In order to remain defense minister, he would agree to [Hadash chair] Muhammad Barakei joining the coalition. He has no principles, everything's personal with him."
Of his own potential cabinet appointment, Lieberman said, "I could be a good foreign minister, just like anyone else."
Lieberman also denied claims that his party had requested the Public Security portfolio for an MK in his party because of a police investigation against him.
"I'm not interfering," he said, "and I won't interfere. The investigation won't result in an indictment."
Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz has already ruled that Lieberman cannot be public security minister, because that ministry is in charge of the police and would pose a conflict of interests for his subordinates.
Regarding the Justice Ministry, Lieberman said, "I think that Friedmann is a serious and appropriate man for the job, and the more people try to pressure me, the more I want him to [remain]."
Amir Mizroch contributed to this report.