It appears Israel will have a new government in place by the time President Barack Obama arrives late next week.
The country’s top politicians are in the final stages of Israel’s version of “Let’s Make A Deal,” the buying and selling of government ministries known as forming a coalition government.
Once again Israel will have a badly bloated cabinet – probably 25, down from 29, compared to United States at 15 — with one ministry being awarded for every three Knesset seats a partnering party holds. That’s a lot of taxpayer-supported Volvos and other expensive perqs.
Avigdor Lieberman will apparently be foreign minister if he can stay out of jail. He is currently on trial on charges of fraud and breach of trust, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to hold the job himself until he can hand it back to Lieberman, assuming the Yisrael Beiteinu leader beats the corruption rap.
Meanwhile, one of Lieberman’s party lieutenants will be running the department as deputy foreign minister. Danny Ayalon, the former ambassador to Washington who previously held deputy’s post, was dropped from the Yisrael Beiteinu list by Lieberman and is a likely prosecution witness in his former boss’ trial.
Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid, the centrist party that came in second, had wanted to be foreign minister but Netanyahu refused, offering the finance ministry as a consolation prize.
The other top ministry, defense, will go to Moshe Yaalon, the former IDF chief of staff and a member of Yisrael Beiteinu.
Naftali Bennett, leader of Bayit Yehudi, won’t get a major portfolio and will have to settle for the trade ministry.
This will be the first coalition since Yitzhak Rabin’s two decades ago not to include at least one Haredi party, although Bennett has close ties with the religious and national camps.
Tzipi Livni, foreign minister under Ehud Olmert, will become justice minister and was promised she could lead negotiations with the Palestinians, as she did previously. She came very close to an agreement in 2008 but Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas walked out. A year later, after Netanyahu, who had campaigned against those terms, was elected and took the offer off the table, Abbas insisted any negotiations much resume negotiations where they’d left off when he took a hike. With Livni back and Lapid calling for resuming negotiations, any new talks might have more credibility but that will depend on how much latitude or backing Netanyahu will give her, and it is tough finding any optimists on that count.
The haredi parties may not be in the government but Netanyahu is expected to protect their interests — especially Shas’ — with an eye to bringing them into his coalition in the future. That’s why he won’t give the education portfolio to Yesh Atid, which Shas fears would try to press extensive reforms on the haredi schools, forcing them to give greater attention to basic language, math and other skills.
A major campaign issue for Lapid called for drafting more ultra-Orthodox men into the army. Netanyahu is protecting Haredi interests and Lapid is likely to be forced to settle for little more than token reforms.