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Likud internal dissent over cabinet posts delays Israeli government formation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now engaged in mediating demands of his Likud party members for senior portfolios, in a development that unexpectedly delayed formation of the nation’s 35th government.

Thursday’s dramatic events occurred just hours before 120 Members of Knesset (MKs) were slated to officially take their oaths of office, followed by an anticipated factional debate and vote to approve Netanyahu’s unity coalition with his political partner, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.

Instead, eleventh hour machinations by the Likud forced Netanyahu to postpone the ceremony to Sunday.

According to a joint Likud / Blue and White statement sent to TV7, Gantz agreed to Netanyahu’s request for more time “to enable him to finalize ministerial appointments within Likud.” Gantz then informed Netanyahu that, “based on the agreement and this postponement,” he would withdraw his intended-resignation as Knesset Speaker as he would no longer set to immediately become Defense Minister.

The Likud showdown resulted when veteran politicians and former ministers Avi Dichter and Tzachi Hanegbi announced they would abstain from the affirmation election of the new government. Dichter, who is also the ex-Director of the Shin Bet Security Service, reportedly told his associates that Netanyahu had shown disrespect by failing to either meet or offer him position appropriate of his standing.

Other disgruntled party-faithful are said to include David Amsalem, Yoav Galant, Gila Gamliel, Tzipi Hotovely, Ze’ev Elkin and former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

As it is, the next cabinet will be the most expansive in Israel’s history with a minimum of 34 ministers. It has the backing of 72 MK’s, even though in recent days the Likud’s natural political partner Yamina announced it will join the opposition.

A statement from the right-wing, national religious Zionist faction accused Netanyahu of “blatant disrespect for Yamina and its voters” and advancing “emerging policies that appear to make it [the coalition] a left-wing government.” Yamina Spokesperson Moshe Basos told TV7 in an exclusive interview that the party had “very much wanted to be part of the coalition,” but was forced to defect due to failure by Netanyahu and his delegation to hold any direct negotiations for nearly 2 months. It was also apparent that Yamina Party leader and current Defense Minister Naftali Bennett’s public quest as being appointed the next Health Minister would not be realized. In related developments, yesterday morning the outgoing defense chief branded Netanyahu as “weak” for inadequately responding to threats posed by Hamas in Gaza.

TV7 sources within the Likud insist the government will ultimately be formed; in what would effectively resolve Israel’s political deadlock that has persisted since December 2018 and formally mark the start of Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic fifth term as Prime Minister. According to the April coalition deal between the two leaders, Blue and White leader Gantz will assume the premiership from Netanyahu in 18 months and ministerial portfolios will be evenly-divided between both ruling parties.

In his attempts to quell the internal Likud rebellion, Netanyahu may now have to reshuffle previous appointments of his MKs, which were set to include: Yisrael Katz as Finance Minister; former Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein – who has already become Health Minister in place of Yaakov Litzman (who, as the United Torah Judaism party head and Likud ally, will become Housing and Construction Minister); Rafi Peretz s Education Minister; Yariv Levin as the next Knesset Speaker; Miri Regev as Transportation Minister – and Foreign Affairs Minister in October 2021 when Gantz becomes Premier; Amir Ohana as Public Security Minister; Yoav Galant as Intelligence Minister; Ofir Akunis as Regional Cooperation Minister; and Gilad Erdan as the next dual Israeli Ambassador to the United States and the United Nations.

Additional appointments to Likud partners are believed to entail continued service as Interior Minister by Aryeh Deri of Shas, while the ultra-Orthodox party’s MK Rabbi Yaakov Avitan will become Religious Affairs Minister. Labor MKs Amir Peretz is expected to be named as Economy Minister while Itzik Shmuli becomes Welfare Minister; and Gesher head Orly Levy-Abekasis would be named as Minister of a newly-created Office for Community Strengthening and Promotion.

The Blue and White bloc, for its part, has already officially completed the allocation of its cabinet positions. The list of appointments sent to TV7 is as follows:

LTG (res.) MK Benny Gantz will serve as Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense; LTG (res.) MK Gabi Ashkenazi will be Minister of Foreign Affairs; MK Avi Nissenkorn the Minister of Justice; MK Amir Peretz the Minister of the Economy and Industry; MK Itzik Shmuli as Minister of Labor, Welfare and Social Services; MK Miki Haimovich – Chairman of the Committee on the Interior and the Environment; MK Yoaz Hendel – Minster of Communications; MK Michael Biton – Minister within the Ministry of Defense, responsible for Civil Affairs; MK Chili Tropper – who already took over as Minister of Culture and Sport on Thursday morning; MK Zvi Hauser – Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee; MK Orit Farkash-Hacohen – Minister of Strategic Affairs, MK Merav Cohen – Minister of Social Equality and Senior Citizens; MK Asaf Zamir – Minister of Tourism; MK Izhar Shay – Minister of Science; MK Omer Yankelevich – Minister of Diaspora Affairs; MK Pnina Tamano Shata – who will make history as Israel’s first Ethiopian-born Minister when assuming the Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption portfolio; Michael Biton as Minister of Minority Affairs; MK Omer Yankelevich as Diaspora Affairs Minister; MK Alon Shuster – Minister of Agriculture; MK Ram Shefa – Chairman of the Education Committee and MK Eitan Ginzburg – Chairman of the Knesset Committee.

— By Erin Viner