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Two Likud MKs assail Netanyahu over senior cabinet roles offered to other parties

Former ally Bitan says party leader ‘crossed the line’ and was out-negotiated by Deri and Smotrich; Danon says wrong for Shas leader to hold multiple top portfolios

Likud head MK Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on November 21, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud head MK Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on November 21, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu faced sharp public criticism from two lawmakers within his party on Tuesday over a potential coalition deal that would hand a number of key cabinet portfolios to other parties in his bloc rather than remaining within the faction.

Likud MK David Bitan, once a close Netanyahu ally and former coalition whip who has ramped up his criticism of the party leader in recent months, said generous offers to Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich and Shas chief Aryeh Deri had “crossed the line.”

“I don’t see how Likud is going to have influence in the way we wanted. I am unhappy on behalf of Likud voters and activists. This is unbelievable and I hope it will change in the negotiations,” he told Radio 103FM.

“Netanyahu crossed the line with regards to everything to do with Likud,” said Bitan, who on Sunday slammed Netanyahu for not supporting him in the party’s primaries earlier this year, which damaged his standing on the Likud slate.

He also said that other senior lawmakers from the party would be unhappy if they were only offered junior positions within the government.

“I hear the unnecessary spin and briefings from Netanyahu’s office and they hurt people within Likud,” said Bitan.

MK David Bitan during a plenum session in the Knesset, on October 13, 2021.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I see briefings relating to [Yuli] Edelstein, [Israel] Katz and [David] Amsalem,” he said, naming senior lawmakers who in recent months have either made moves against Netanyahu’s leadership, or have been perceived as doing so.

“Amsalem is hurt. He put himself on the line for Netanyahu,” Bitan said. “Katz and Edelstein won’t agree to become junior ministers.”

“Smotrich and Deri know how to negotiate, while it seems Netanyahu does not,” he charged.

His fellow Likud MK Danny Danon was less strident, but told the Kan public broadcaster that the coalition agreements must ensure key ministries are under the control of lawmakers from his party, and criticized a reported agreement with Deri.

Likud’s MK Israel Katz, MK David Amsalem, MK David Bitan tour the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on October 20, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“Significant portfolios must remain in Likud’s hands. I don’t know if the reports are true, but the Foreign Ministry must remain in the hands of a Knesset member elected by Likud,” said Danon, a former ambassador to the United Nations.

“Likud has an experienced team and I believe that the defense and foreign portfolios will held within the party. It is important that even the so-called ‘medium-sized’ portfolios are in Likud so that we can deliver on the reforms we promised the voters,” Danon said.

He also criticized the reported agreement with Deri, which would see the Shas party chief hold a number of high-ranking roles with expanded powers.

“Giving several large portfolios to one minister is wrong from an executive point of view,” Danon said.

Likud party member Danny Danon speaks to press as the results of the elections are announced, in Jerusalem November 1, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Under a proposed compromise amid apparently stalled collation talks, Deri would receive a “super ministry” that would effectively combine the Interior Ministry and Transportation Ministry into one office — to make up for losing out on the finance minister job to Smotrich.

Reports also suggested Deri would become acting prime minister, a role that would require further legislation as by law it is only available to those who are in the same party as the prime minister.

However, Deri’s appointments face legal challenges that would require changing the country’s quasi-constitutional laws due to Deri’s most recent conviction for financial offenses — his second.

Both Kan and Channel 12 reported that Deri’s ultra-Orthodox party would also receive the Negev and Galilee Ministry. Kan said the party was also set to control the Health Ministry and the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, while Channel 12 said instead that it would receive the Religious Services Ministry and a position in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Shas head Aryeh Deri at a conference in the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem Hotel, September 12, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu has also reportedly reached a compromise with Smotrich, with the latter agreeing to give up his demand to be defense minister and instead take over the Treasury.

Smotrich’s initial demand of the defense portfolio would have given him significant control over the West Bank and over the daily lives of Palestinians. The prospect of that appointment was fiercely opposed by the United States and was criticized domestically as well, including by right-wing figures, who noted Smotrich’s lack of security experience.

According to Channel 12’s unsourced report, Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party will nevertheless wield some control over Israel’s West Bank policies and will be able to name a subordinate minister within the Defense Ministry, similar to Minister Michael Biton, who currently has such a position under outgoing Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

Likud MK Yoav Gallant, a former IDF general, has been named the most likely next defense minister in such an arrangement.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir (R) and MK Bezalel Smotrich (L) at an election campaign event in Sderot, October 26, 2022 (Flash90)

Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, is expected be named public security minister, giving him control over the police, and his party will also reportedly take the Agriculture Ministry.

According to recent speculation, Netanyahu wants to appoint Ron Dermer, a long-time confidant, foreign minister. That move would reportedly have the blessing of the Biden administration, which has expressed unease over a number of the other reported planned appointments.

Negotiations are ongoing and appointments could still change. However, the described framework would remove some of the main obstacles that have prevented Netanyahu from putting together a working coalition government since his victory at the head of a bloc of right-wing, far-right and religious parties in the November 1 elections.

Likud declined to comment on the negotiations but said that some of the myriad reports were not true.

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