Lapid, Bennett, Mofaz form bloc to pressure PM

Yesh Atid, Bayit Yehudi and Kadima offer to support PM for full, four-year term if they receive Foreign and Finance ministries.

Lapid and Bennett at Knesset swear in 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Lapid and Bennett at Knesset swear in 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Yesh Atid, Bayit Yehudi and Kadima formed a bloc of 33 Knesset mandates on Wednesday night, and demanded that they receive the Foreign and Finance ministries, a Yesh Atid official told The Jerusalem Post.
The three parties together have two more MKs than Likud Beytenu, and will not join the coalition if their demands are not met. However if they receive two of the three top-tier portfolios, they will support Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for a full, four-year term, according to the source.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid denied Wednesday night that Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi had given Netanyahu an ultimatum over portfolios.
In a Facebook post, Lapid wrote that "it is not true and not honorable...Netanyahu is the one forming the government and neither of us would give an ultimatum to the prime minister."
Lapid has a penchant for dealing in semantics. Last week, the Yesh Atid leader said he does not boycott any person, including haredim, but that he refuses to sit in a government with Shas or UTJ.
Meanwhile, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein said on Wednesday that there is nothing barring Netanyahu from reserving the portfolio for Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman until the trial against him is resolved.
A prime minister can hold additional portfolios at his will and even without an “arrangement,” the prime minister could give Liberman any post at any time (presuming he is found innocent in the trial against him), the attorney-general said. Weinstein added that all of the issues involved in the portfolio question were political and not legal, giving him no reason to get involved.
Further, he rejected any concern that Liberman “hovering” over the future of the Foreign Ministry would pressure ministry workers into changing their testimony against Liberman, out of concern that he might retaliate in the future.
Weinstein announced his position on the issue, in response to a request from Labor MK Merav Michaeli and OMETZ watchdog group head Aryeh Avneri to rule on the issue and demand a commitment from Netanyahu not to follow through with the alleged backroom agreement.
Michaeli slammed Weinstein’s decision to allow Netanyahu to “hold” the Foreign Ministry portfolio for Liberman.
The Labor MK said the attorney- general’s decision “harms the ability of Foreign Ministry employees to testify freely” against Liberman, who is on trial on charges of corruption.
Lapid demanded the Foreign Ministry in coalition talks, while Netanyahu told him it was being saved for Liberman, and offered him the Finance Ministry.
If Lapid refuses the Finance Ministry, it is likely to be offered to Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett.
Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi are at odds over the number of ministries in the next government, with the former hoping to keep its campaign promise of 18 portfolios, and the latter aiming to get four for its own party, which would likely mean a total of 22-23 ministers, or one for every three MKs in the coalition.
In a meeting between Netanyahu and Bennett earlier this week, the Bayit Yehudi leader said he would be willing for there to be up to 25 ministers, if it would mean avoiding feuds within Likud Beytenu because of competition over portfolios.
Earlier on Wednesday, Yesh Atid canceled coalition talks, saying Likud Beytenu is insisting on a government with 28 ministers, while the latter called Lapid’s party’s claims “transparent spin.”
A senior Likud Beytenu source said that “Yesh Atid is trying to distract the public from the bigger question. Why, when throughout the election Lapid asked, ‘Where’s the money,’ he has yet to respond to our offer to be the next finance minister, in the place where the money is found and changes and reforms can be made.”
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud Beytenu) accused Yesh Atid of being afraid of Lapid becoming finance minister and needing to make unpopular decisions.
“That’s not part of ‘new politics,’” Erdan said, referring to a Yesh Atid slogan, “so they’re trying to make it seem like an argument about values.”
According to Erdan, Likud Beytenu is not seeking a government with 28 ministers, rather, it intends to “significantly reduce” the number of portfolios from the outgoing government, which had 30.
In addition, Erdan told Army Radio, there will be no ministers-without-portfolio, which is another of Yesh Atid’s demands.
Still, Yesh Atid MK and close Lapid ally Ofer Shelah said on Wednesday afternoon that Likud Beytenu is insisting on 28 ministers.
Talk about Lapid rejecting the Finance Ministry is “spin manufactured by the Likud,” Shelah added.
Still, when asked on Army Radio whether Lapid wants the position, Shelah said that “Yesh Atid deserves one of the three senior portfolios [the Foreign, Finance and Defense ministries]. We won’t discuss which one until we get an answer to our demand on the number of ministries.”
Another Yesh Atid source close to Lapid said the party will not be flexible and allow even one more ministry.
“When the next budget is passed, there are going to be major cuts and the public will have to pay. In that situation, it’s not fair for their money to go to an overinflated government,” she said.
The source said Likud Beytenu concerns that a shrinking number of portfolios would mean that some of the list’s current ministers would be demoted to MKs were “irrelevant as far as Yesh Atid is concerned.”