Israeli parties squabble over plum coalition jobs

By Anshel Pfeffer, February 14, 2013
Yair Lapid:  wants Foreign Ministry (Photo: AP)

Yair Lapid: wants Foreign Ministry (Photo: AP)

Talks between Likud Beiteinu and the two main potential coalition partners — Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi — were bogged down this week over disagreement between the sides on the new government’s policies and ministerial appointments.

The main difference between Likud and Yesh Atid is over the new national-service law. While Yesh Atid has demanded a universal system by which every Israeli citizen of 18 will be called up for national service, Likud is willing to compromise with the Charedi community, to set limits for the number of yeshivah students to be called up and also allow them to postpone their service.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid will hardly be likely to accept anything less than universal conscription after making it a central plank of his election manifesto and, on his maiden speech on Monday to the Knesset, said: “We must not ignore this debate”.

Another bone of contention is the question of the senior cabinet position that Lapid will receive as leader of the second-largest party in the Knesset.

Mr Lapid is expected to demand the Foreign Ministry, as he has little relevant experience for the other two main ministries, Defence and Finance. But the former foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, made it clear this week in public that he expects to return to the post once his court case over breach of trust is over. Meanwhile, Mr Lieberman is the only senior politician with a new job. On Wednesday, he was appointed interim chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.

Shelly ruined Labour’s election campaign

In what was seen as an attempt to bring down Yesh Atid’s price, a Likud official leaked on Wednesday that Habayit Hayehudi, the third largest party expected to be in the coalition, had been offered the Education Ministry. This is also one of the portfolios that Mr Lapid is interested in for his party, and Habayit Hayehudi MKs responded that no such offer had been made. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally met Habayit Hayehudi leader, Naftali Bennett on Monday, after they hadn’t spoken for five years, following their falling-out when Mr Bennett resigned from the position of Mr Netanyahu’s chief of staff. The meeting was described as “cordial” but sources close to Mr Bennett said that they had not discussed ministerial roles in the new cabinet and that the leak was simply “an attempt to put pressure on Lapid”.

Labour so far is officially standing firm with its leader Shelly Yachimovich’s commitment not to join the Netanyahu government. However, senior members have begun briefing in recent days that the party should not rule out the option. “Shelly ruined our election campaign,” said one of the party’s MKs. “We should have done much better than a meagre 15 seats and now we are going to be stuck in opposition because of her. We should at least co-ordinate our moves with the other centrist parties and see if we can’t force a moderate policy on Netanyahu.”

Last updated: 5:31pm, February 14 2013