Netanyahu still mum on Likud ministers

Party MKs afraid of last-minute decision on portfolios; talks with UTJ stuck as it rejects Health Ministry.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
March 29, 2009 01:49
3 minute read.
Netanyahu still mum on Likud ministers

bibi netanyahu 248 88 ap. (photo credit: AP [file])

 
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Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu will not inform his Likud ministers which portfolio they will receive until the last minute, as he did when he first became prime minister on June 18, 1996, sources close to him promised on Saturday night. Likud MKs recalled that then, Netanyahu did not even tell them whether they would be ministers until an hour before they were supposed to be sworn in, and they had to keep a suit in their car, not knowing whether they would need it. They expressed fear on Saturday night that they would have to endure the same ordeal on Tuesday. Netanyahu's associates said he delayed his meetings with his prospective ministers in which he will reveal their fate to them from Sunday to Monday, and the swearing-in of his government from Monday to Tuesday, to give him more time to consider how to allocate the Likud's portfolios and to give United Torah Judaism another chance to enter the coalition. The ministers will be sworn in on Tuesday afternoon when President Shimon Peres returns from a state visit to Czechoslovakia. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin will be approved as Knesset Speaker Monday, despite requests from Arab MKs to not hold key Knesset sessions when they will be attending Land Day protests in the North. No official negotiations have taken place with UTJ since Labor joined the government on Tuesday. The official cause of the breakdown in the talks is a dispute over policies on conversion, but another reason is that UTJ MKs were angry that the Likud gave the Welfare and Social Services portfolio that their party had been promised to Labor's Isaac Herzog. Likud negotiators told UTJ MKs in informal talks that they could receive the Health portfolio instead, but they demanded the Transportation Ministry, which is sought after by Likud MKs Gilad Erdan, Yuval Steinitz and Yisrael Katz. No Likud MK has expressed particular interest in becoming health minister. "The haredi public doesn't have any special health-related interests, but if we had the Transportation portfolio, we could solve our problems with the bus companies," a UTJ MK said. "The negotiations are stuck. If we don't join, it won't be a disaster." There also have been no contacts with the National Union since the deal with Labor was signed. National Union MK Arye Eldad said the Likud sent him a draft coalition agreement last Sunday before the talks with Labor began, but since then the Likud had not called to set up a meeting. "If Bibi wanted the National Union in the government, we would be in the government by now," Eldad said. "If Labor didn't join, we could have finalized an agreement in half an hour. "Netanyahu used us to get a recommendation from the president to form a government. But now that he's gotten Labor to join his coalition, he apparently doesn't want us anymore." A source close to Netanyahu said the National Union would remain outside the coalition, because of its "unreasonable demands" and due to the behavior of the party's chairman, Ya'acov Katz. Ma'ariv reported on Friday that Netanyahu went as far as holding a secret meeting with Katz's rabbi, Rabbi Zalman Melamed, in a private home in Efrat last weekend to try to persuade him to pressure Katz to ease his conditions for joining the government. Likud officials also met with former chief rabbi Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and settler leaders like Ze'ev Hever and Benzi Lieberman, but Katz was unwilling to compromise. "Just like [Kadima leader Tzipi] Livni, the National Union didn't realize that we had another alternative in Labor until it was too late," a source close to Netanyahu said. Channel 1 reported on Friday night that Livni and Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel would meet this week to discuss Kadima and Labor rebels cooperating in efforts to bring down Netanyahu's government. Cabel and four other Labor MKs intend to walk out of Tuesday's vote approving the new coalition. Barak further angered Cabel on Friday when he convened a meeting of the secretariat of Labor's executive committee at his office in the Defense Ministry, which decided to suspend Labor's legal adviser, Yoram Avrahami, a confidant of Cabel. Barak was angry at Avrahami for issuing a ruling, without informing Barak first, that Labor's convention that approved joining the coalition could not be convened for three weeks. "Barak is trying to change Labor into Israel Beiteinu," Cabel complained. "Holding meetings in the Defense Ministry is not proper and no decision can be made in such a forum. "It is unfortunate that the chairman who promised to work to unify the ranks of the party is breaking another promise and once again making his words worthless."

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