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Likud says Lapid turned down Finance Ministry

As coalition talks enter last lap, attorney general examines legality of deal reserving Foreign Ministry for Avigdor Liberman

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Likud party offered Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid the position of finance minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s next government, but Lapid, who has his sights set on the Foreign Ministry, turned down the offer, Likud sources said on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the right-wing Jewish Home party denied a report in Maariv that its leader, Naftali Bennett, had been offered, and accepted, the Finance portfolio.

With Netanyahu apparently resigned to the fact that his next coalition will not include, at least at first, the ultra-Orthodox parties, talks have shifted to a discussion of which Cabinet positions will be divvied up among the various parties and which will remain in the hands of Likud and its partner party, Yisrael Beytenu.

One apparent sticking point in talks between the Likud and Yesh Atid has been Netanyahu’s insistence that the position of foreign minister be held for Avigdor Liberman, the leader of Yisrael Beytenu, who has noted his intention to return to the post if and when he is exonerated 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 set aside for Liberman. All coalition agreements must be public, Weinstein’s office said in response to a petition to investigate the deal, while stressing that the decision to launch an investigation didn’t mean that the agreement was necessarily problematic.

So far, the only Cabinet bureaus to have been officially doled out are the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Environmental Protection, which Netanyahu awarded Tzipi Livni’s centrist Hatnua party, along with a pledge to place Livni in charge of peace talks with the Palestinians.

With the moment of coalition-building truth near at hand — Netanyahu must form a government by Mach 16 — pressure is also rising to the surface inside among would-be ministers in Likud.

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar said on Tuesday that he wanted to continue in office for another term. “In our political reality, I don’t know whether or not I’ll stay,” he said, amid reports that Yesh Atid had demanded the influential post.

“I want to continue in my job as education minister. In my opinion it’s not a portfolio; it’s a mission, a responsibility. Education is our future and, in my view, there is no job more important than the job of education minister,” Sa’ar said.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz also expressed hope that he would be given a meaningful position in the next government. Talking to Army Radio on Monday night, Steinitz said he didn’t know what posts would be available after coalition deals were sealed with other parties, but stated his confidence that he’d remain a key decision-maker.

One of the parties apparently doomed to remain outside Netanyahu’s emergent coalition is the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism, which on Tuesday requested to dissolve the Knesset and go to another round of elections, citing the lack of experience among those expected to handle the reins of power over the next term.

It is unthinkable that “Israel will be managed by inexperienced people motivated by hatred,” read the petition filed by MK Uri Maklev — a reference to the perception that Yesh Atid and Jewish Home “boycotted” the ultra-Orthodox parties during coalition talks.

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