Shalom: Netanyahu won, the Likud lost

Prime minister-designate: Whoever has a problem with the position offered to him needn't accept it.

silvan shalom 248 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
silvan shalom 248 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu is close to finalizing coalition agreements with Israel Beiteinu and Shas, but the party that gives him the most serious trouble might end up being his own Likud. Netanyahu's strongest Likud rival, MK Silvan Shalom, convened more than 400 Likud activists at his Ramat Gan home Sunday night, in a show of force intended to pressure the party chairman to give him a plum cabinet post. Shalom sent an olive branch to Netanyahu in a speech in which "unity" was the word he uttered most often, but he also issued veiled threats to lead a rebellion against him inside the party. "I told Bibi that there has never been such unity in the Likud, but that's only because I swore to him that I wouldn't commit any act that could be perceived as antagonistic," Shalom told the crowd that packed his house. "We have to play a central role in the next government. I don't want to get to the situation where Bibi is prime minister, but the Likud remains outside." In his first public remarks since Netanyahu gave the Foreign Affairs post he had sought to Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, Shalom said he did not care about portfolios. But he noted with dismay that the Finance Ministry had not been offered to him or to anyone else in the Likud. "My entire goal is to maintain unity in the Likud, which is in the national interest," Shalom said. "I have proven that before and I'm proving it today. For the Likud's path to lead for the next four years, the Likud must have influence in the government. With all due respect, the Likud won the election and not Lieberman, Shas or other parties." Likud MK Gila Gamliel came to the event and said that a Netanyahu- and Shalom-led government was needed for stability. Some of the Likud activists were openly critical of Netanyahu. "Bibi has changed for the worse," said Avraham Avidan, who heads the Likud branch in Yavne. "Whenever Bibi becomes head of Likud, he loses his head. Bibi sold out the Likud and forgot the Likudniks who worked hard for him in the election." Shalom said he kept his promise to Netanyahu that he would not complain about him in the press because they had shared goals. He called on Netanyahu to act to unite the Likud. He quoted a Mishna in tractate Eduyot about actions being more important than words. "We must remember that your actions can bring you close or can distance you," he said, quoting the sage Akavia Ben-Mehalalel. But Netanyahu gave no indication that he intended to give Shalom a senior portfolio or the post of vice premiere to placate him. Without mentioning Shalom by name, he threatened disgruntled portfolio-seekers in his party, speaking at a photo opportunity at the Knesset where he received a report advising him what to do in his first 100 days in office. "Whoever has a problem with the position offered to him doesn't have to accept it," Netanyahu said. "Whoever has a problem with the wealth of portfolios that we have doesn't have to accept them. I'm not putting a gun to anyone's head. Whoever thinks the posts around the cabinet table are not fit for them does not have to take them." Netanyahu's associates noted that the Likud would hold all of the top portfolios, with the exception of Lieberman's Foreign Ministry: The Prime Minister's Office, the Finance Ministry and the Defense Ministry, which is expected to be given to the Likud's Moshe Ya'alon. Channel 1 reported that in a meeting between Netanyahu and Lieberman at the Knesset on Sunday morning, he tried to persuade the Israel Beiteinu leader not to take the Justice Ministry, because Daniel Friedmann's presence there would prevent Labor or Kadima from joining the coalition. Netanyahu on Sunday called Labor chairman Ehud Barak, who told him that there was no basis for starting negotiations between their parties because the Likud leader had accepted Lieberman's demands to control the two law enforcement ministries, Justice and Public Security. The Likud and Israel Beiteinu negotiating teams met again on Sunday morning at Ramat Gan's Kfar Hamaccabiah Hotel. They agreed to support legislation granting land to soldiers after they finish their service and enabling the state to withdraw benefits or grants to anyone who performed an act of betrayal, espionage or terrorism. But the parties did not make progress on matters of religion and state or electoral reform. In a meeting with his negotiating team, Lieberman said he hoped the Likud would compromise so a deal can be reached by the March 20 deadline to form a government without an extension. The Likud and Israel Beiteinu teams will meet again at the Knesset on Monday. The Habayit Heyehudi faction will convene to express outrage that the Likud has not called the party in for coalition talks since their initial meeting two weeks ago.