Likud head to present gov't next week, praises MKs for "maturity normally absent in Israeli politics."
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu intends to present a government of 28 ministers, including himself, and seven deputy ministers to the Knesset next Tuesday after completing the formation of his coalition by the end of the week, according to sources close to Netanyahu.
When Netanyahu first became prime minister in 1996, he formed a cabinet of only 18 ministers in an effort to save taxpayer money and prove that a smaller government could be run more efficiently. A law was even passed limiting the number of ministers to 18, but it was later repealed.
But Netanyahu's associates said Wednesday he later regretted his stinginess, because he made too many enemies among MKs left without a portfolio.
They said he learned from former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who formed the largest government in Israel's history, that governmental stability required keeping as many politicians as possible content.
"The credit he received from the public for building a small government only lasted a few days, while his problems with disgruntled politicians lasted much longer," a source close to Netanyahu said.
"The outcry against Sharon lasted only a few days, and he was prime minister for longer."
Coalition agreements signed by Wednesday gave five portfolios each to Labor and Israel Beiteinu, four to Shas and one to Habayit Hayehudi.
Likud officials expressed confidence that a deal would be finalized with United Torah Judaism Thursday night giving the faction the Health portfolio, which will be held by a deputy minister.
The remaining 13 ministers will come from the Likud. The number of Likud ministers could go down by one if Yaakov Neeman declines to accept the Justice portfolio and allows Netanyahu to give it to MK Gideon Sa'ar, but a member of the Likud's negotiating team said emphatically that Neeman would be the justice minister.
Netanyahu is under pressure to give up his hope of maintaining the Finance portfolio for himself. If he gives it up, the most likely candidates are MKs Dan Meridor, Yisrael Katz and Yuval Steinitz. MK Silvan Shalom, Netanyahu's rival, is not expected to be given the job, because Netanyahu would want someone he could trust and work closely with in the Treasury.
Sources close to Netanyahu confirmed a Channel 1 report that Netanyahu was seriously considering giving the title of vice prime minister to MK Moshe Ya'alon, despite a promise to Shalom to give him the Likud's highest position.
Sa'ar is expected to become education minister, MK Gilad Erdan is likely to be given the Environment portfolio, Katz Transportation, MK Limor Livnat Communications, and MK Moshe Kahlon Negev and Galilee.
Another minister will be given the Culture and Sports portfolio, which will be removed from the Science Ministry given to Habayit Hayehudi chairman Daniel Herschkowitz.
Some top Likud MKs could become ministers-without-portfolio, or head ministries that do not currently exist. For instance, Meridor could be strategic affairs minister and Steinitz minister of economic peace.
MK Yuli Edelstein is expected to become Diaspora affairs minister and will likely also be the ministerial liaison to the Knesset. MK Bennie Begin's role is still unclear but he could receive the Pensioners Affairs Ministry, which is also in charge of matters related to Jerusalem.
Sources close to Netanyahu denied reports he intended to appoint ministers to half terms and have them rotate, as he did with Silvan Shalom and Michael Eitan in the Science Ministry in his first government.
At a meeting of the Likud faction on Wednesday, Netanyahu told the MKs he would soon meet with them to tell them their roles in his government. He praised them for their "restraint and maturity," which he said "is normally absent in Israeli politics."
"I know that it's difficult, but unity requires making compromises and it made our faction pay a heavy price," he said. "But I'll do everything possible to make sure that this faction is properly represented in the leadership of this nation."
While in closed conversations many Likud MKs are angry at Netanyahu for not keeping enough plum portfolios for his own party and for paying too steep a price to bring in Labor, no MKs dared criticize him in the meeting. A Likud MK attributed the silence of the faction to "panic over prospective portfolios." When a Likud MK asked Netanyahu whether he would bring the National Union into his coalition, he hinted that it was unlikely, saying Habayit Hayehudi and UTJ were higher priorities.
Netanyahu's opponents in the Likud central committee are trying to force him to convene the committee to approve the coalition agreements he signed with other parties, especially the one with Labor.
"Once again, we chose Right and got Left," Likud central committee member Moshe Feiglin said. "Once again, the Right was the majority but had no leadership. After the Netanyahu farce is over, the Likud will choose a courageous leader with roots who can save Israel from the Oslo fiasco."
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