Coalition talks held up over education battle

Parties agree on 21-portfolio government; Kadima's inclusion uncertain; "Settlement Ministry" may be created for Ariel.

Netanyahu looking morose at cabinet meeting 370 (photo credit: GPO)
Netanyahu looking morose at cabinet meeting 370
(photo credit: GPO)
Coalition talks continued Monday night, with sides agreeing to having a 21 minister government, and a battle raging between Yesh Atid and Likud Beytenu over the education ministry.
Following three and a half hours of talks between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, MK Avigdor Liberman, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett, the parties agreed there would be 20 ministers, not including Netanyahu or Liberman who will become Foreign Minister after his corruption trial, and eight deputy ministers.
Sources in the three parties are hopeful that the talks would end on Tuesday, so the coalition can be sworn in this week.
However, Likud Beytenu sources accused Lapid of drawing out talks until the Friday deadline, in order to pressure Netanyahu into giving Yesh Atid the ministries it wants.
Likud Beytenu will receive 11 portfolios, with seven for Likud and four for Yisrael Beytenu, Yesh Atid will get four or five, Bayit Yehudi will take three and Hatnua, two.
While most coalitions usually have the same ministerial index - the set proportion of ministers to MKs in each party - for all parties, this one will be more generous to Likud Beytenu, while the other parties will have the same index.
Yesh Atid will have four portfolios if they are willing to give up one for Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz, which party sources indicated they would consider on Monday afternoon. If not, it is unclear if Mofaz will stay out of the government, leaving the coalition with 68 seats, or if he would accept a deputy minister position.
Meanwhile, Yesh Atid and Likud Beytenu are still at odds over the Education Ministry, in a battle of number twos - current Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who is second on the Likud list, versus MK Shai Piron.
A senior Likud source said Monday night that the party insists on continuing to hold the portfolio.
"The Education Ministry under Gideon Sa'ar had great achievements in the last four years, and the prime minister is interest in the continued success of Israeli students, as we saw in international tests, where we reached the top ten," the source said.
Piron, former rabbi of Petah Tikva Yeshiva and the chairman of an educational NGO, has said that Lapid was able to convince him to enter politics by saying he could be the next Education Minister.
If Piron becomes Education Minister, Sa'ar is likely to get the Interior Ministry. If Sa'ar is Education Minister, Piron may get Welfare, and either MK Yael German or MK Meir Cohen, both of Yesh Atid, would take Interior.
Meanwhile, the Bayit Yehudi is trying to make up for the ministry it lost in the last days of negotiations by expanding the three it has left.
For example, Bennett will most likely receive the Public Diplomacy portfolio, in addition to Industry, Trade and Labor, and the Religious Services portfolio, which the Bayit Yehudi will also receive, will include conversion and other services not currently under the ministry's authority.
The Bayit Yehudi is also demanding that the Housing and Construction Ministry include the Israel Lands Authority, as it did in the past.
In January, Netanyahu promised outgoing Welfare Minister Moshe Kachlon, who did not run in the last election, the chairmanship of the ILA, which would become part of the Prime Minister's Office.
However, the Bayit Yehudi opposes the move, which the party says would render expected Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel powerless.
One option that was raised as an alternative to not installing Kachlon as ILA chairman is to create a "Settlement Ministry," which would take the remaining responsibilities of the Housing portfolio, plus the settlement department in the Negev and Galilee Department, as well as the authorities of the Jerusalem Ministry, which was supposed to be the Bayit Yehudi's fourth portfolio.
A Bayit Yehudi source said the party would only accept the Settlement Ministry proposal if Ariel is able to build in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria without approval from the Defense Ministry or Kachlon.
"The Likud Beytenu would never accept that, so they will have to get rid of Kachlon," the source said.