Netanyahu: I won't give in to Shalom

PM-designate vows to keep party united; considering a professional appointment for the Finance Ministry.

Netnayahu 248.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
Netnayahu 248.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski)
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, who faced the defections of several top ministers from his cabinet when he was prime minister, vowed on Monday not to surrender as senior Likud figures threatened to remain outside the cabinet that he is struggling to form. Both Silvan Shalom and Dan Meridor threatened in closed conversations Monday to remain outside the cabinet, to protest Netanyahu's decisions to give the Foreign Affairs portfolio to Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman and retain current Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann. The absence of Shalom and Meridor would leave Netanyahu without the men who were expected to be his most dovish ministers. Shalom indicated that he was not interested in the Finance portfolio and that any post other than foreign minister would be a step backward for him that he was not prepared to take. Meridor said he was considering leaving politics again, because one of the key reasons for his return was to repair the damage to the justice system that he believes was caused by Friedmann. Netanyahu's associates said he was aware that he could appease Shalom and Meridor by giving the former the title of vice prime minister and the latter the Finance portfolio. But they said he would not give in to either of them. "I won't surrender, back down or give in," Netanyahu said in private conversations, according to Channel 1 political analyst Yaron Deckel. "I won't allow the Likud to return to the days of [former foreign minister and rival] David Levy, when the party was divided." Netanyahu believes the title of vice prime minister would encourage Shalom to undermine him. Regarding the Finance portfolio, Netanyahu has not made up his mind yet, but he is seriously considering offering the post to a professional, such as former Finance Ministry budget chief Uri Yogev. At the beginning of the Likud's Monday morning faction meeting, Netanyahu said coalition negotiations were still continuing, and asked party members to refrain from discussing proceedings, including cabinet appointments, with the media. "It's not a simple situation," Netanyahu said. "There are pressures. Unnecessary public deliberations only serve to weaken us against our partners. If we are united we can achieve more." Netanyahu justified the plum portfolios he gave to Israel Beiteinu by stressing that Lieberman's party had won 15 seats. His associates said he was still trying to persuade Lieberman to give up on Friedmann, in part to pacify Meridor. Lieberman defended Friedmann in an interview with Israel Radio, saying that the "hysteria around Friedmann is McCarthyism of the Israeli Left, which has no monopoly on enlightenment." A meeting of the Likud and Israel Beiteinu coalition negotiating teams that had been set for Monday was postponed. The parties have not yet reached agreements on matters of religion and state and electoral reform. Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar told Likud MKs that the party would not raise the voter threshold because both Habayit Hayehudi and United Torah Judaism object. Kadima MKs accused Netanyahu of sacrificing the good of the country for his own personal survival. "Netanyahu proved once again that he can't be trusted because he broke his promise and surrendered to the haredim," Kadima faction chairman Yoel Hasson said. "In light of the election results, it is obvious to everyone that the electoral system must be changed." The Likud released a statement in response, calling Kadima's attacks "ridiculous, in light of the fact that Kadima did not make any changes to the electoral system in an entire term, while all the potential coalition partners have agreed to several key changes that will be legislated as soon as the government is formed."