Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reportedly furious with senior members of his Likud party, with whom he engaged in tough negotiations over ministerial portfolios until mere moments before the Thursday night Knesset session to swear in the new cabinet.
Netanyahu was said to have told close associates that they “almost cost him the government” with their haggling, according to a report aired on Channel 10 Friday, more so than the demands of Netanyahu’s coalition partners — Jewish Home, Kulanu, Shas and United Torah Judaism.
The prime minister was fuming at the “greediness” exhibited by members of his party who fought over 12 ministries not taken by coalition parties, according to the report.
Israel’s 34th government was finally sworn in Thursday night, with Netanyahu presenting his list of 20 ministers before the Knesset about an hour before midnight. A glaring omission from the list was prominent Likud member Gilad Erdan, who came in number two in the Likud primaries last year.
Erdan rejected Netanyahu’s offer to take the Public Security Ministry and the Intelligence portfolio, preferring to combine the former with the Interior Ministry, a proposal in turn denied by the prime minister.
According to the Channel 10 report, there was very little communication between Erdan and the prime minister throughout Thursday when Netanyahu was meeting with a host of Likud members to discuss ministerial roles.
Erdan on Friday took to social media to explain his decision to stay out of the government and continue serving as a member of Knesset, saying that the PM’s offer to him was insufficient.
Erdan was urged to reconsider his decision by Netanyahu during his Knesset speech, as well as by new Minister of Immigration and Absorption Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) and Likud lawmaker Yariv Levin, who was handed the Public Security Ministry in Erdan’s place.
“The public security portfolio is with me as a deposit until Erdan joins the government […] we need his leadership and experience, I think he belongs in the government and this will indeed come to pass,” Levin told Channel 2 Friday.
Levin was echoing comments made earlier in the day by Elkin.
“I call on him to join the government,” said Elkin. “He is one of the senior members of Likud and should be a senior minister and there is no reason he will not be part of this government. I believe that Gilad can and will find his place in the government.”
Both Elkin and Levin also called on Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman to join the coalition, with Elkin saying he would give up the Immigration Ministry if Liberman did so, allowing Netanyahu to enlarge his coalition from the precarious 61 MKs to 67. The Yisrael Beytenu chairman dropped a bombshell a day before the deadline for forming a coalition, announcing his party would not join Netanyahu.
“There exists a risk of another election. It is not what the people need and it is not what the people want, and therefore I call on Avigdor Liberman to fulfill the voters’ wish and join the government. I am willing to give up the immigration portfolio I received so that there will be a stable government here,” Elkin said in comments aired on Channel 2 evening news.
Levin also called on Liberman to come back to the fold of the government even as he criticized his conduct in coalition negotiations: “The root of all evil was the decision by Liberman not to join. As soon as it was clear there were just 61 MKs in the coalition and each and every one can, with their single vote, decide the fate [of the government] created exaggerated expectations [among coalition partners], including some of my friends in the Likud,” he said.
Yisrael Beytenu “has nothing to look for with [Joint List MKs] Ahmed Tibi and Jamal Zahalka. They need to return those lost six Knesset seats to the coalition,” he said
Levin, usually very cool on TV appearances, began his comments by apologizing to the Channel 2 news anchors for having to stay up late for the government’s swearing-in on Thursday, adding sarcastically that they must be sad that Netanyahu succeeded in forming a government. This drew a response of “Oh come on” from news anchor Dana Weiss and set the tone for a rowdy discussion where the newly appointed minister was interrupted more than once.
Levin cited the coalition negotiations as an example of the need to change Israel’s system of government. “The system is problematic. Governance and the larger parties should be strengthened,” he said.
Military analyst Roni Daniel, who was in the studio as a panelist, shouted at Levin: “Crying about the system is our job. Changing it is yours,” he said.