At Likud Beytenu meeting, former FM says Lapid "hasn't even warmed up his chair as an MK yet," but already talks of being PM.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s effort to form a broad national-unity government took a backward step on Tuesday when his No. 2 in Likud Beytenu, former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, bashed Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.Liberman, who is concerned Lapid will take the Foreign Ministry portfolio that he desires, avoided overtures from the Yesh Atid chairman on the Knesset floor. Earlier, at a Likud Beytenu faction meeting, Liberman slammed Lapid’s statements about running for prime minister in the next election.“This is a new phenomenon in Israeli politics,” Liberman said.“The man just got elected. He didn’t even warm his chair in the Knesset for a single day and he is already not talking about the country or the middle class. He is no longer asking ‘Where is the money?’ [the name of Lapid’s newspaper column]. He is only asking one question: When will he already be prime minister.”Lapid’s spokeswoman declined to comment about Liberman’s statements or to reveal what Lapid told Netanyahu when he whispered in his ear on the Knesset floor. But in closed conversations, Lapid appeared to indicate that he would choose the Foreign Ministry.The deal between Likud and Yisrael Beytenu gives Liberman his choice of the top three portfolios, but if Lapid demands the Foreign Ministry, it will be hard for Netanyahu to say no. In such a scenario, Liberman is likely to be given the Finance portfolio, but only if he is cleared of the charges against him following a trial that could take as long as a year.Meanwhile, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz could keep his post. Steinitz acknowledged but would not confirm rumors that he is Netanyahu’s choice to be Knesset speaker in a year if MK Reuven Rivlin returns to the post but is elected president in 2014.AdvertisementAnother possibility is that Netanyahu will return Vice Premier Silvan Shalom to the Finance Ministry, where he served under former prime minister Ariel Sharon. Netanyahu and Shalom met at the Knesset on Tuesday for an hour.The prime minister also had a lengthy meeting at the Knesset with Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich. Yacimovich said the meeting was interesting but Labor would not join the coalition because the gaps with the Likud on socioeconomic issues and the peace process were too wide.“I am under tremendous pressure from inside my party to join the government,” Channel 10 quoted Yacimovich as saying in closed conversations. “I won’t even form a coalition negotiating team, because if I do, it will be hard to stop us from going in.”Netanyahu did not meet with Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett, but he did shake the hand of his former chief of staff for the first time in years.Likud sources said Netanyahu was upset at reports that Bennett had reached an understanding with Lapid that either both their parties, or neither, would join the next government.Sources close to Bennett downplayed the reports of an understanding, but said he had no choice but to cooperate with Lapid while Netanyahu was giving him a cold shoulder.Netanyahu reiterated in a speech to Likud Beytenu MKs that he intended to form a broad coalition. His associates said that meant having 80 MKs in the coalition so no faction, including the 19-MK Yesh Atid, could topple him.“This is the time for unity and responsibility,” the prime minister said. “The election is over. Our enemies and our challenges do not rest for a moment. It is time to join forces and to form as broad a national-unity government as possible.”
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