Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid criticized Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog on Saturday, charging that the head of the Knesset’s second largest faction ultimately wants to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition and therefore was failing to challenge its planned new policies and budgetary allocations.
“[Herzog] is silent because he is still waiting for a phone call from Netanyahu asking him to join,” Lapid said at an event in Tel Aviv.
“Terrible things are happening here in recent weeks, they are selling our country, and Isaac [Herzog] and his party are silent.”
Lapid said the coalition deal with United Torah Judaism alone would cost Israel 4.5 billion shekels (in excess of $1 billion). If the Zionist Union wasn’t going to lead a spirited opposition, he said, Yesh Atid would.
Herzog has said repeatedly that he will lead a determined opposition to Netanyahu’s incoming “dangerous” coalition, and has no plans to be part of it, but has refused to rule out ever joining it.
Netanyahu has kept the foreign minister’s job open in his planned government — apparently to woo Herzog.
In response to the criticism by Lapid, the Zionist Union released a statement accusing the Yesh Atid chairman of making baseless comments that would ultimately only weaken the opposition to Netanyahu in the Knesset.
“It is amusing to see the one whose head is still smeared with the butter of the failed Netanyahu-Lapid government now acting as an opposition [to the government],” the Zionist Union statement read.
“He should learn from Herzog, who says something and means it, and stop aiding the government of Netanyahu by releasing irresponsible statements which divide the opposition parties.”
Lapid sent letters of warning Friday to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, threatening to take legal action against Netanyahu’s planned move to increase the number of ministers in the incoming government from 18 to 20. During Saturday’s Tel Aviv event, Lapid charged that Netanyahu’s planned increase of the number of ministerial posts displayed a clear case of “corruption at the expense of the public coffers.” According to Lapid, Netanyahu was deceiving the public by claiming that the addition of ministers to the government had little fiscal consequence, while in reality such a move would cost hundreds of millions of shekels.
The Knesset is set to vote Monday on a proposal to expand the government, which was curtailed by the last Knesset to 18 ministers; Netanyahu wants to create two more ministerial posts so as to be able to offer more jobs to his senior Likud party colleagues.
Netanyahu will only announce which Likud MKs are to be given which ministerial positions after the Knesset vote, the Likud party said Friday, apparently to prevent potentially disgruntled MKs from not showing up to vote on the expansion move. Changing the law to allow 20 ministers requires 61 votes in favor from the 120-member Knesset, and therefore will need complete attendance by the members of the incoming 61-strong coalition.
On Thursday, Likud officials confirmed that Netanyahu was hoping to expand his coalition to include the Zionist Union slate in a broad unity government. One party official told Israel Radio that Netanyahu was keeping the Foreign Ministry portfolio for himself in the hopes of later handing the top cabinet post to Herzog, should he manage to cajole Zionist Union into joining the coalition in the coming weeks.
Netanyahu himself hinted at efforts to expand his coalition when he announced his newly formed government Wednesday night. “Sixty-one seats is a good number. Sixty-one-plus is a better number. But it starts with 61, and we will begin with that,” he said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Netanyahu had anticipated a 67-strong coalition, but on Monday Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman announced he was quitting as foreign minister and taking his six-seat Yisrael Beytenu into the opposition.
Capitulating to the demands of the Jewish Home party at the last minute on Wednesday night, Netanyahu agreed to give the right-wing party the education, justice and agriculture portfolios, the right to name a deputy defense minister from its own ranks, the leadership of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, and control over the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division, which funds and plans West Bank settlement building.
On Monday, Likud signed an agreement with Shas agreeing to give the ultra-Orthodox party the Economy Ministry, the Religious Affairs Ministry, the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, the post of deputy finance minister and the chairmanship of the Knesset Education Committee. According to the agreement, party chairman Aryeh Deri will be the new economy minister and minister of development in the Negev. It is still unclear which of the party’s MKs will receive the religious affairs portfolio.
Last week, Netanyahu secured coalition deals with the Kulanu party and the ultra-Orthodox faction United Torah Judaism.