Netanyahu gives up on deal with Barak

Portfolios to be allocated this week for 61-MK coalition; Lieberman to become Foreign Minister.

silvan shalom 248 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
silvan shalom 248 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu has ended his quest to bring Labor into the next government and will expedite his efforts to form a coalition of 61 MKs from the Likud, Israel Beiteinu, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Habayit Hayehudi, sources close to Netanyahu said Saturday night. The prime minister-designate will complete the process of allocating portfolios to his coalition partners this week and then distribute the remaining ministries inside his own party, with a goal of presenting his government to President Shimon Peres next Monday. Between now and then, Netanyahu will try to appease his Likud rival, MK Silvan Shalom, who is angry at him for giving the Foreign Affairs portfolio that he sought to Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman. Shalom will host a rally of Likud supporters at his Ramat Gan home on Sunday night. Close associates of Netanyahu who spoke to him personally confirmed a report on Friday by Ma'ariv columnist Shalom Yerushalmi that in the Likud leader's meeting with Lieberman at the Knesset on Thursday night, he agreed to his demands to give Lieberman the Foreign Ministry and allow Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann to keep his job. "Lieberman issued a complete ultimatum, and as the leader of our largest coalition partner, we have no choice but to listen to him," a Netanyahu associate said. "He wasn't even willing to talk about the possibility of not receiving the Foreign Ministry and the Justice portfolio." Netanyahu's associates admitted that giving the Justice Ministry to Friedmann, who is despised by Labor, constituted giving up on Labor joining the coalition. But they said it was Labor that had ruled out joining and the Likud was not willing to give Barak the Defense portfolio if he came alone as a professional appointment without his party. Barak saw the report about Friedmann's appointment being final on Ma'ariv's Web site and went on Channel 2 on Friday night to lash out at rivals in his party, who prevented him from seriously entertaining Netanyahu's overtures to join the coalition with what he called their "self-righteous anger." "What Israel needs at this time is a broad unity government, because a narrow, right-wing coalition is trouble," Barak said in the interview. "The elections pointed us toward the opposition, but the obsession with going to the opposition and the decisive attempt to prevent any dialogue at any cost are unclear to me and seem odd." Barak stressed that Labor would definitely not join the coalition if Friedmann remained in his post, saying, "We won't allow Lieberman to decide who heads the Justice Ministry." A source close to Barak said Saturday night that, "it is now official that we have given up and we will remain in the opposition." With Labor and Kadima definitely out, the only party that still has a question mark about whether it will join the coalition is the National Union. Netanyahu did not like the insults the National Union's chairman, MK Ya'acov Katz, made against him on a haredi radio station last week, and Netanyahu's associates described the party's coalition demands as overly extreme. The National Union has asked to legalize unauthorized West Bank outposts, build new settlements and for Katz to get the Construction and Housing portfolio, perhaps as a deputy minister. "Netanyahu wants them in the coalition, but if they continue to act crazy and ask for what they can't get, they will be outside," a source close to the Likud leader said. "We will know the framework of the coalition within 48 hours. We have to close things." Coalition talks will continue with Israel Beiteinu on Sunday at Ramat Gan's Kfar Hamaccabiah Hotel. No talks will be held with Shas, but a party spokesman said drafts of the coalition agreement with the party would continue to be written by negotiating teams via e-mail. Shas is expected to be given the Interior, Housing and Construction, and Religious Services portfolios. In addition to the Foreign and Justice ministries, Netanyahu reportedly also promised Lieberman the Public Security, National Infrastructures and Tourism ministries. But Netanyahu's associates said he was still trying to keep the Public Security portfolio for the Likud. Channel 1, meanwhile, reported that Netanyahu's No. 2, Gideon Sa'ar, would be given the Education portfolio. While most of the Likud faction was careful not to talk, even off the record, against Netanyahu for fear of being left outside the cabinet, there were Likud MKs who expressed outrage that he had given away so many plum posts to Israel Beiteinu and Shas. "Everyone is angry about the portfolios," a Likud MK said. "Bibi is selling everything out to the coalition partners. He doesn't care about us. He only cares about himself."