Netanyahu's weekend dilemma

PM-designate must fit too many Likud heavyweights into too few slots.

yaalon 248.88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
yaalon 248.88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu will end weeks of speculation on Sunday when he allocates portfolios inside his Likud faction ahead of Tuesday's presentation of his new government, sources close to Netanyahu said Thursday. Netanyahu will spend the weekend consulting with his many confidants and advisers and then make several key decisions alone, including whether to keep the Finance portfolio for himself, as he had intended; what to do about rival Silvan Shalom; whether to appoint a vice prime minister; and how to handle the fight over the Education Ministry being waged by MKs Gideon Sa'ar and Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon. "He is very calm, but he has no idea what to do," a close confidant said of Netanyahu. "He will decide what portfolios to allocate to whom based on intuition, who his friends are, politics, whether the politicians can take revenge and bother him, and of course, the ability of the politicians to perform well in each role." Netanyahu's associates said that to avoid an uproar from disgruntled Likud ministers, he was leaning toward giving the Finance portfolio to someone else, despite his desire to control the ministry, and that he would probably appoint a vice prime minister, despite his initial decision to avoid crowning a potential successor. The toughest decision for Netanyahu could be what to do about the Education Ministry. He promised the job to Sa'ar, who is his No. 2 in the Likud, when he thought Ya'alon would be his defense minister, but after that job was given to Labor Chairman Ehud Barak, Netanyahu no longer has a portfolio that can satisfy Ya'alon. In a meeting with Netanyahu Thursday, Ya'alon reportedly threatened to quit politics if not given the Education portfolio, an issue that interests the former chief of General Staff no less than security. Channel 1 reported that he had told Netanyahu he hadn't entered politics to be a minister-without-portfolio. "Bogie only entered politics because Bibi told him that he needed him," a senior Likud source said. "If he sees that he cannot make a sincere contribution and he is no longer needed, he won't hesitate to leave politics." After Netanyahu failed to persuade Ya'acov Neeman to give up the Justice portfolio in favor of Sa'ar, it could be that the only solution left would be for Netanyahu to give Sa'ar the Treasury. That would cause problems with Shalom, who Netanyahu promised would be the Likud's top minister, but Netanyahu's associates said he could fix that problem by giving Shalom the title he wants, that of vice prime minister. "The government will have disappointed people who didn't get the portfolio they wanted," Likud MK Reuven Rivlin said. "That's the price that must be paid by the party that forms the government and is its backbone when it needs skin, nerves and flesh and especially muscle to be able to survive." Netanyahu defended the projected size of his government, which could reach 28 ministers and seven deputy ministers, at a press conference at the Knesset, where he was presented a plan for his first 100 days in office. "There is an economic price to be paid for a large and stable government, but the economic price for not forming a strong and stable government is so much higher and could cause crises, so the price to form a coalition is insignificant," Netanyahu said. No official coalition negotiations took place Thursday, but there were constant contacts with United Torah Judaism through many channels. Netanyahu's associates said he would make every effort to bring in UTJ, which would expand his coalition to 74 MKs and allow his government to survive if Labor's 13 MKs left. "If Barak brought along with him a dowry of 13 MKs, the coalition building would be done, but if he only has seven or eight MKs, we will still need UTJ or the National Union," a source close to Netanyahu said. "When Labor joined, people realized that this government is going to be around for a while. The government is already hard to be topple, but to effectively implement its policies, it has to be wider." Barak convened his faction in Tel Aviv on Thursday, but five Labor rebels who opposed joining the coalition boycotted the meeting. MKs Ophir Paz-Pines, Eitan Cabel, Amir Peretz, Shelly Yacimovich and Yuli Tamir intend to walk out of Tuesday's vote on the coalition. "There was a democratic decision and now it is time to reconnect the party and get to work," Barak told the MKs. "I will work to unify the ranks. But I was hurt by the attacks against me. Even in a legitimate dispute, it is better to refrain from personal attacks on people." Barak has not yet decided how to allocate his party's available ministerial portfolios, deputy ministerial positions and Knesset committee chairmanships. Supporters of former MK Nadia Hilu, who is a Christian Arab, sent a letter to Barak urging him to appoint her as the minister responsibility for dealing with minorities. Dozens of Labor members have left the party since Tuesday's decision to join Netanyahu's government. Kadima officials said they would be welcomed in the party with open arms.