Netanyahu may push government's formation to next week

Court cases, parliamentary maneuvers postpone swearing-in of next coalition.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  (photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: HAIM ZACH/GPO)
The election process that began when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Hatnua head Tzipi Livni on December 2 may end up stretching into next Monday, more than two months after the March 17 election, Likud officials said Sunday.
The officials said there was a loophole in the law, allowing the next government to be sworn in a week after the Knesset speaker officially informs the parliament that a coalition has been formed, which would mean next Monday, rather than seven days after the coalition is actually formed, which would mean presenting the government this week on Wednesday.
“I understand that the deadline to form the government is next week,” said Likud MK Yariv Levin, a member of the coalition negotiating team.
“No decision has been made yet about when the swearing- in will take place.”
Netanyahu told the cabinet that he would only start distributing portfolios in his next government to Likud MKs after a bill intended to enable expanding the cabinet is passed into law. The bill would delay until the next Knesset implementation of a law passed two years ago limiting the number of ministers to 18, deputy ministers to four, and prohibiting the appointment of ministers without portfolio.
The bill for an expanded cabinet passed unanimously during the cabinet meeting on Sunday. It will be brought to a preliminary reading Monday in the Knesset, where it is expected to pass by a narrow margin. It will then have to be brought to a special Knesset committee ordered by Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon, following complaints by Zionist Union and Yesh Atid MKs who said it must pass a vote in the Knesset Law Committee, which has yet to be formed because there is no coalition yet.
“We are taking legal action to prevent the twisted maneuver that the prime minister has undertaken to ensure his political survival at any price,” Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog said at a political event in Tel Aviv. “We will continue to take steps, along with Yesh Atid, to replace this government of failure as soon as possible.”
Yesh Atid faction chairman Ofer Shelah asked the High Court of Justice Sunday for an injunction to delay the expansion of the cabinet until the government follows proper procedure. The Court asked the state to respond by Monday at 8 a.m.
The Zionist Union wrote to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, saying that changing a Basic Law to enable appointing more than 18 ministers would require the support of 70 MKs, not just the 61 who will be in the coalition. Herzog said his MKs would filibuster to delay the bill’s passage.
Finance Ministry budget director Amir Levy wrote to ministers on Sunday warning that the cost of each additional ministry would be between NIS 2.8 million and NIS 3.9m., which accounts for funds spent on ministerial salaries, security and chiefs of staff. He wrote that extra deputy ministers had a price tag of NIS 1.5m.
Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin responded by saying that Levy’s budget proposal for 2015 did not include decreasing the number of ministers.
Although spending an extra NIS 15m. or so to increase the size of the government riles some, budgetary experts note that the cost is insignificant in comparison to serious spending outlays in the budget. For example, provisions in the coalition agreements signed in the past few weeks have amounted to an estimated NIS 10 billion, over 650 times the worst-case scenario cost of a few extra ministers without portfolio.
Similarly, the Finance Ministry noted that a more substantial problem than the number of ministers was the number of ministries, which stands at 27. The OECD average is 14. The Treasury also estimated that some 35-40 percent of the ministry employees are general workers who may not contribute significantly to increased levels of service.
Elkin said the Likud would have been happy to appoint only 18 ministers, but its coalition partners demanded more. He said 12 of the 20 ministers appointed would be from the Likud.
The biggest battle is over the Foreign Ministry, which Netanyahu wants to keep for himself. It is also being sought by current ministers Gilad Erdan, Silvan Shalom and Yuval Steinitz, and by current Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi.
Hanegbi told Army Radio Sunday that he would not accept an appointment as a deputy minister in the next government.
“I already had that role,” he said. “I know what the weight of a deputy minister is. It does not have the influence I would like. I think the prime minister also thinks I should have more influence.”
Niv Elis contributed to this report.