Coalition to be sworn in this week

After a night of negotiations between Likud Beteynu, Bayit Yehudi, political sources say an agreement is expected in the coming days; PM stands ground, says he'll keep promise to hold Foreign Ministry for Liberman.

Netanyahu at Knesset swear in 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Netanyahu at Knesset swear in 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
An agreement on the coalition government is expected to be presented to the Knesset by Monday, Israel Radio reported on Sunday.
According to the report, a new government is expected to be formed by Tuesday, Israel Radio cited political sources as saying.
The report comes after Likud-Beytenu, Bayit Yehudi and Yesh Atid party representatives met for a marathon of talks late Saturday night in an attempt to reach a coalition agreement.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is warming up to the idea of becoming finance minister, party sources said on Saturday, a week before Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s deadline to form a government.
Lapid and Netanyahu met on Friday for talks their spokeswomen called “positive, with much progress made.”
Likud Beytenu’s and Bayit Yehudi’s negotiating teams also met on Saturday night.
The coalition most likely will be composed of 23-24 ministers, with 12 from Likud Beytenu, five or six from Yesh Atid, four from Bayit Yehudi, two from Hatnua and one from Kadima.
Lapid has held out because he prefers the Foreign Ministry, but Netanyahu stood his ground, saying he will keep his promise to Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman to save the portfolio for him until his corruption trial ends.
Yesh Atid wants the Education Ministry for MK Shai Piron. However the current minister, Gideon Sa’ar of Likud Beytenu, has said he would like to remain in his post, and if Netanyahu backs Sa’ar, Piron may be given the Welfare portfolio.
Lapid’s party also hopes to take the Interior Ministry for MK Yael German or MK Meir Cohen, in which case Industry, Trade and Labor would be the most senior portfolio left for Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett.
A senior Bayit Yehudi source said Bennett was likely to take the ministry, but with an “expansion.” One possibility is to add responsibility for the Public Diplomacy Ministry.
Although it is a less likely scenario at this point, Bayit Yehudi hopes that Lapid will turn down the Finance Ministry, which is the portfolio Bennett wants most, a source close to the party’s negotiating team explained. However, if Lapid takes it, Bayit Yehudi will not fight.
The source said that many in the party think Bennett deserves the Interior Ministry if the Yesh Atid leader takes Finance, “but Lapid doesn’t want to budge,” keeping the Interior portfolio for his party.
“We want a top-five ministry. Tzipi Livni in a higher position [as justice minister] than Bennett is unfair,” he added, pointing out that current Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon was second in Independence, a five-MK party no longer in the Knesset.
The uppermost tier of ministries is considered to be Finance, Foreign and Defense.
The latter most likely will go to Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon of Likud Beytenu. The Justice Ministry, which Hatnua chairwoman Livni received in her deal with Likud Beytenu, and Education and Interior, are at the next level of prestige.
Still, Bayit Yehudi has made the Construction and Housing, and Religious Services portfolios, which will probably go to MKs Uri Ariel and Eli Ben-Dahan, respectively, a priority, and may need to be flexible with Bennett’s position to get them.
Bayit Yehudi has also asked that the Religious Services Ministry be expanded to include responsibility for conversions, which currently are overseen by the Prime Minister’s Office, and other religious matters.
In addition, MK Uri Orbach, a close Bennett ally, is expected to become a minister.
If the government is sworn in this week, Bayit Yehudi may not be able to participate because of a party bylaw that requires its central committee to ratify the coalition agreement.
One option being weighed is to email central committee members the proposed agreement and hold the vote by phone.
In 2003, the ministers from Bayit Yehudi’s predecessor, the National Religious Party, were not sworn in together with the rest of the government for that reason.