Top job for Lieberman as Bibi is forced right

By Anshel Pfeffer, March 12, 2009
Binyamin Netanyahu greets aides as he finalises details of his cabinet

Binyamin Netanyahu greets aides as he finalises details of his cabinet

The key appointments in Israel’s new government, being sworn in on March 18, will be Avigdor Lieberman as Foreign Minister and Moshe Yaalon as Defence Minister.

Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu has failed to convince the leaders of Kadima and Labour, the mainstream parties in the Knesset, to join his coalition. His new government, therefore, will be based on a narrow, right-wing coalition, leaving Mr Netanyahu no choice but to accede to most of his partners’ demands.

The major concessions have been made to Yisrael Beiteinu which, with 15 Knesset members, will be the second largest party in government.

Its leader, Mr Lieberman, will be appointed Foreign Minister, despite what a Netanyahu adviser has described as “dozens of calls and messages from abroad warning Bibi of the effect it could have on Israel’s foreign relations”.

The adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity, added: “People will have to realise this is a result of a democratic process. Lieberman’s party received enough votes to enable him make these demands. Hopefully they will find his bite is not as bad as his bark.”

Yisrael Beiteinu is also expected to receive four other ministries, including Justice and Employment.

Within his own party, Mr Netanyahu has come under fire from senior Likud figures for ceding too many senior portfolios to coalition partners. After Mr Netanyahu, the most senior Likud minister is expected to be Mr Yaalon, the former IDF Chief of Staff, with the Defence portfolio. The third senior post, Finance Minister, will not be filled, as Mr Netanyahu has failed to find a figure from the business world willing to join his government. It is expected Mr Netanyahu will retain control of the Treasury.

One of the last disputes he has to resolve before he can present his government to the Knesset is which party will control the Housing Ministry. Both ultra-Orthodox parties in his coalition, Shas and United Torah Judaism, are demanding it, as they want to push forward housing projects for their communities. The ultra right-wing National Union is also seeking the housing portfolio, which it sees as vital for building new homes in the West Bank.

Last updated: 2:42pm, March 17 2009