Likud sources on Wednesday afternoon slammed Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid for canceling coalition talks and “obsessing” about becoming foreign minister.
The sources spoke soon after Moshe Leon, a top Likud negotiator, told Israel Radio that coalition negotiations between Likud-Beytenu and the Jewish Home and Yesh Atid parties were in their final stages and an agreement could be reached within hours.
Leon also said that, contrary to earlier reports, the number of ministers in the government was not the issue at hand, but rather whether Lapid would take the Finance Ministry portfolio, which he has until now refused to do.
The Likud sources told Army Radio, however, that Lapid was “obsessing” about becoming foreign minister, “which isn’t going to happen,” that Likud was furious with him for canceling the scheduled talks earlier in the day, and that it was bizarre he didn’t want to be finance minister “since his whole campaign was about making sure money was spent only in the right places.”
It was not immediately clear whether Leon’s upbeat assessment about progress toward a coalition, or the unnamed Likud sources’ bitter narrative, was the more accurate. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has until March 16 to form a governing coalition following the January 22 elections.
Earlier on Wednesday, Yesh Atid canceled the coalition meeting with Likud-Beytenu representatives amid what were initially reported as objections to what it sees as an excessive number of ministers planned for the next government.
According to Israel Radio, Likud-Beytenu has its sights set on a government composed of up to 25 ministers. Yesh Atid, led by political newcomer Lapid, has drawn the line at a more modest 20.
In another version, Yesh Atid sources told Ynet that Likud insists the government have 28 ministers, whereas Lapid’s party wants 10 fewer than that. The previous government under Netanyahu had 30 ministers and nine deputy ministers.
“The cost of these extra ministries runs to hundreds of millions of shekels,” said Yesh Atid MK Meir Cohen.
With both Yesh Atid and Jewish Home apparently on the verge of joining the government, coalition talks have been focusing on who gets which of the top three ministerial positions — defense, finance, and foreign affairs — and hence the new dispute over the number of ministries.
Lapid is keen to take over the Foreign Ministry from Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, arguing that his party, with 19 seats, has a better claim to the post than Liberman’s does with 11.
Netanyahu, however, has promised the Foreign Ministry position will be held for Liberman, who has stated his intention to return to the post if and when he is cleared of the corruption charges that he is currently fighting in court.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said his office would examine the legality of the ostensible agreement that the position of foreign minister would be saved for Liberman. All coalition agreements must be public, Weinstein’s office said in response to a petition to investigate the deal, while noting that the decision to launch an investigation didn’t mean that the agreement was necessarily problematic.
The Jewish Home party continued to deny reports that its leader Naftali Bennett had been offered and accepted the Finance Ministry. Yesh Atid and Jewish Home said they were cooperating with each other and that a decision to accept the treasury by either faction would be made jointly.
Also Wednesday, Lapid was reported to be taking on the religious status quo in his coalition demands: Yesh Atid was said to be demanding public transportation on weekends, civil marriage and an easing of the conversion process, among other coalition commitments.