Netanyahu may link 2 portfolios, offer vice premier; Israel Beiteinu, Habayit Hayehudi feeling snubbed.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu has begun trying to repair his relationship with party rival MK Silvan Shalom, and is in the process of building a "mega-portfolio" in an effort to appease him, sources close to Netanyahu said Tuesday.
Netanyahu has not been persuaded to give Shalom the vice prime minister's title he desires, but is prepared to combine two portfolios, such as the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry and the Transportation Ministry, and give him the lesser title of vice premier. The difference between the two titles is that the vice prime minister takes over for an incapacitated prime minister, as happened to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Shalom has said in closed conversations that anything less than the Foreign Ministry would be a step backward for him, and that it would be preferable for him to remain outside the cabinet if the post is given to Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman. His supporters have threatened to split the party if he is not given a plum portfolio.
"We will do everything possible to get Silvan one of the top three portfolios," said Ofer Kalich, who heads the Likud's Ramat Hasharon branch. "If Bibi doesn't give in to the demands of the party activists who represent the nation, we will have no choice but to begin an 'intifada' that could lead to a split in the party."
But another Shalom supporter in the Likud central committee, Moshe Ben-Shoshan of Jerusalem, took a more moderate approach.
"Silvan is the ultimate Likudnik, he has the largest camp in the party and there is no reason for him not to receive the Foreign Ministry in a narrow coalition," Ben-Shoshan said. "He has the most experience and responsibility and he can run the ministry better than anyone else. But there won't be an intifada in the Likud, because we are Likudniks and we want the government to succeed."
Netanyahu responded to Shalom's threats to remain outside the government in a closed conversation by saying, "I can't be extorted and I won't give into pressure." Sources close to Netanyahu said it was a coincidence that he met with the three MKs who attended a rally at Shalom's home on Sunday. They said he met with them because they had all expressed interest in being coalition chairman and he was dealing with that issue.
MK Yuval Steinitz, who has been the most loyal MK to Netanyahu over the past decade, criticized Shalom on Channel 1, saying: "This is the time for unity. This is not the time to act against the chairman of the party."
Netanyahu has met one-on-one with many Likud MKs this week who are angry about the portfolios that he gave away to Israel Beiteinu and Shas. MKs Michael Eitan and Yossi Peled were reportedly upset that Netanyahu told them that they would likely not be ministers in his cabinet.
A deal has still not been reached between the Likud and Israel Beiteinu. Officials in the negotiating teams of both parties traded barbs on matters of religion and state.
A member of the Likud's negotiating team said that despite high-profile reports in the Hebrew press, Israel Beiteinu had not compromised on the issue of on civil unions for couples seeking to be legally recognized without a religious ceremony in order to receive governmental benefits.
"Instead of briefing reporters, they should brief the Likud," the Likud negotiating team member said.
A member of Israel Beiteinu's team accused the Likud's team of behaving unprofessionally on matters of religion and state and "allowing the haredim to trick them." The Habayit Hayehudi faction is also upset with the Likud, because portfolios have still not been discussed with them. The faction will meet Thursday after the Purim holiday to consider their future.
But the potential coalition partner giving the Likud the hardest time is the National Union, whose leader, Ya'akov Katz, is insisting on receiving the Construction and Housing portfolio, which has already been given to Shas.
National Union MK Aryeh Eldad said Katz cannot decide whether the party joins the coalition and that the decision would be made by the four parties that make up the faction.
"We have only one red line and it's ideological," Eldad said. "On everything else, we can negotiate."
Likud MK Danny Danon will meet the National Union's rabbi, Zalman Melamed, to persuade him to accept the Likud's offer of an expanded Agriculture portfolio that would include the Settlement Authority.
"Katz is not properly representing the settlers who voted for him by turning down our offer," Danon said. "He will have to explain to his constituency why he didn't enter the government just because of the Housing and Construction Ministry." In reaction, Katz said he would relay his response directly to the Likud. He is expected to meet with Netanyahu in the upcoming days.
Seemingly outrageously, Katz told Arutz 7 on Tuesday that in coalition negotiations with the Likud, he was demanding one of the top ministries.
"If Netanyahu cannot meet our demands on the issue of ministries, which only he knows, we will be willing to settle for the Defense or Finance portfolios, or heading the Knesset Finance Committee," Katz told Arutz 7.
Meanwhile, sources close to Netanyahu denied reports that he was considering making a renewed effort to bring Kadima into the coalition. A senior Likud MK is reportedly pushing Netanyahu to do so, and has even expressed interest in the Likud accepting Kadima's demand for a rotation in the prime minister's office. But the source said his government would be sworn in next week, and Kadima would not be part of it.
Jpost.com staff contributed to this report
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