A plan by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to increase the number of cabinet ministers ran into trouble on Sunday evening, when the opposition Yesh Atid party filed a High Court petition to block the move.
MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) petitioned the High Court, claiming that enlarging the cabinet is “contrary to morality and logic, while trampling the procedures of the government and the Knesset.”
The court gave the government until 8 a.m. Monday morning to respond to the petition.
Under an amendment introduced by the previous Knesset, the cabinet is limited to just 18 ministers; 19, if you count the prime minister. However, Netanyahu seeks to roll back that legislation to allow another two ministers and four deputy ministers.
In another obstacle to the initiative, the Knesset legal adviser said Sunday that the required amendment couldn’t be implemented so long as the relevant committee has yet to be staffed.
In response to an inquiry by opposition MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union), Eyal Yanon noted that the temporary Arrangements Committee, chaired by MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) and tasked with nominating MKs for the various Knesset committees, which is scheduled to review the amendment, doesn’t have the authority to do so. According to Yanon, amendments to basic laws, such as the one limiting the size of the cabinet, must be debated by the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which, along with all the other regular Knesset committees, hasn’t been staffed since the election in March.
Although Yanon’s opinion is not likely to stop the process from going forward, it could delay an already tight schedule: The government wants to see all new ministers take up their offices after a vote on Wednesday.
A further difficulty for Netanyahu could come from opposition MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union), who petitioned Knesset Chairman Yuli Edelstein Sunday, arguing that a basic law can only be amended by a 70-MK majority — whereas Netanyahu’s coalition only fields 61 parliamentarians.
Netanyahu is seeking to appoint 20 ministers and four deputy ministers, even though he may later seek to add even more ministerial posts.
The move must still be approved by the Knesset, which will first take up the measure on Monday. The vote could be the first test of Netanyahu’s razor-thin majority in the Knesset — 61-59.
His proposal to increase the number of ministers would overturn an amendment limiting the number of ministers and deputy ministers sponsored by Yesh Atid and passed during the previous Knesset.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid blasted Netanyahu’s plan to expand the cabinet on Saturday, calling it “corruption at the expense of the public coffers.”
Netanyahu is expected to hold consultations with Likud lawmakers over the next couple of days to determine the recipients of the various ministerial posts. A number of internal fights are expected within the party, with some dozen senior politicians squabbling for a handful of ministerial posts.
The cabinet expansion plan also encountered opposition from the treasury due to the surplus costs it would entail. On Sunday, Finance Ministry budget director Amir Levi wrote in a letter to cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit that each additional minister would cost the state between NIS 2.8 – NIS 3.9 million ($720,000 – $1 million) each year, and that each additional deputy minister would cost NIS 1.5 million ($390,000).
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.