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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
MK Yuval Steinitz won top prize among the Likud's portfolios on Monday, when Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu tapped him to serve as his finance minister.
The appointment ended weeks of speculation about whether Netanyahu would keep the portfolio for himself, as he had wanted to, or give it to his Likud rival, MK Silvan Shalom, who issued an ultimatum that he would not enter the cabinet if he was not given the post.
Talks between Netanyahu and Shalom through mediators continued, with the latest offer being the honorary title of vice premier and regional cooperation minister. Shalom made clear that if this were Netanyahu's final offer, he would prefer to remain outside the cabinet.
The same title of vice premier was also given to Moshe Ya'alon, who will serve as minister of strategic affairs and be part of the most intimate decision-making forums on security issues. Netanyahu's associates said there was no problem with having two vice premiers.
If Shalom chooses to enter the cabinet, Netanyahu will have 30 ministers, equaling the record set by former prime minister Ariel Sharon in his first term between 2001 and 2003. The ministers and as many as eight deputy ministers will be sworn in on Tuesday.
Addressing a special Knesset session marking the 30th anniversary of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, Netanyahu said his government would do all it can to make peace with all of Israel's neighbors.
"The government that I'm building will do everything within its power to obtain a just and sustainable peace with all our Arab neighbors and the entire Arab world," he said. "Every one of our neighbors that is willing to make peace will find our hand outstretched."
The final number of deputy ministers depends on whether United Torah Judaism enters the coalition. The party would be given the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee and two deputy ministers, including one who would control the Health Ministry.
It was important for Netanyahu to have an equal number of Likud ministers as the 15 from other parties. The surprise appointments of MKs Michael Eitan and Yossi Peled as ministers-without-portfolio and MK Ayoub Kara as deputy Negev and Galilee development minister also ensured that Shalom would be the only disgruntled Likud MK.
Netanyahu and Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman have agreed that if the latter is charged with any crime and forced to leave the Foreign Ministry, the portfolio would go to the Likud.
Channel 1 reported Monday night that the ministry would not go to Shalom but to another top Likud MK - or perhaps to Kadima's Shaul Mofaz, if he broke off from his party.
The role of Negev and Galilee development minister was purposely not assigned on Monday in the hope that the National Union Party would still join the coalition.
The other portfolios were allocated in one-on-one meetings between the new ministers and Netanyahu in his Knesset office. MK Yuli Edelstein will be national public relations (hasbara) and Diaspora affairs minister. He will be in charge of the foreign press spokespeople inside the Prime Minister's Office and the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
Yisrael Katz will be transportation minister, Limor Livnat received the Culture and Sports portfolio, Moshe Kahlon will be communications minister and Gilad Erdan will be environment protection minister, as well as the liaison between the cabinet and the Knesset.
The incoming prime minister has had considerable difficulty trying to assuage the political sensitivities of senior members in his own party, who watched as a number of prestigious portfolios were promised to other parties as a way of enticing them into the coalition.
Accordingly, Netanyahu has been forced to create positions which previously did not exist.
One such role was offered to MK Gila Gamliel, who was appointed deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Office in charge of women and young people.
MK Ze'ev Elkin won an election for Likud faction chairman, beating MK Danny Danon, an opponent of Netanyahu in the faction, by a vote of 20 to seven.
A day after Kadima leader Tzipi Livni drew fire for calling Netanyahu's government "ugly," she told the Kadima faction that is was "large and bloated with partial and fractions of portfolios and ministers."