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Musical Cabinet chairs

Ya’alon given defense portfolio and Sa’ar named interior minister

Erdan also gets big promotion as Netanyahu hands out ministerial posts; Shalom, unhappy with his intended role, meets with PM; disappointment among party’s young guard

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and incoming Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon overlook the Old City of Jerusalem last year. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and incoming Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon overlook the Old City of Jerusalem last year. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Likud MKs met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his office in Jerusalem on Sunday to receive their marching orders for the next Cabinet and other government roles.

Among the big winners were Moshe Ya’alon, who was made defense minister, Gideon Sa’ar, given the Interior Ministry, and Gilad Erdan, who walked out with both the home front defense and communications portfolios.

Erdan, outgoing minister of environmental protection, was also offered a place in the seven-strong “security cabinet” — a significant elevation. Likud sources confirmed the security cabinet would be reduced from 15 members to just seven. The security cabinet is the inner ministerial committee that votes on the most important and pressing defense and diplomacy decisions.

Furthermore, Erdan was asked to oversee the strategic dialogue between Israel and the United States, and to run the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Government Press Office.

Ya’alon, a former IDF chief of staff was the first in to see Netanyahu, and was asked to fill the shoes of Ehud Barak as defense minister. Ya’alon was minister for strategic affairs in the previous government. A hardliner in terms of his attitude to the Palestinian Authority as a potential peace partner, Ya’alon is regarded as a relative moderate on Iran — opposed to military intervention before all other avenues to thwart Iran’s nuclear program are exhausted. With all the security challenges facing Israel, it was important to have a man of Ya’alon’s experience in the defense post, Netanyahu said.

“In 2005 I completed 37 years of service in the IDF…. Today I received overall responsibility for Israel’s defense establishment,” said Ya’alon. “I am determined to draw on my experience and values and lead the IDF to new heights in order to meet the challenges of the future.”

Danny Danon, who came in fifth in the Likud party primaries, was offered the post of deputy defense minister. Yesh Atid’s Ofer Shelah turned down the post, branding it pointless and Danon, an Education Corps officer, had demanded a Cabinet position.

“When was the last time the person who came in at No. 5 in the Likud primaries wasn’t made a minister?” he asked on Army Radio shortly before reportedly accepting the job, dismissing the idea of a deputy ministership as “meaningless.”

Silvan Shalom was to be asked to stay on as minister of regional development in charge of the Negev and the Galilee, but was said to be unhappy with the post, and threatened to stay out of the government unless offered a job of greater “significance.” Should he turn the position down, it will go to Danon.

Former education minister Gideon Sa’ar will be minister of interior; Yisrael Katz will stay on as transportation minister; and Limor Livnat will carry on as minister of sports and culture. Outgoing finance minister Yuval Steinitz was expected to serve as minister of energy.

Seven Likud ministers who served in the outgoing government were being offered posts in the incoming one, but not all were happy with their new intended roles. There was disappointment, as well, among many of the party’s younger members who had hoped to take on ministerial posts, but will be forced to settle for deputy minister positions or committee chairmanships.

Likud ran on a joint list with Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party in the January 22 elections, earning 31 Knesset seats.

“There is a certain degree of frustration among the party members. I would have been happy to see the party incorporate new ministers in executive roles, but we must honor the elections results that gave Likud only seven ministerial portfolios. We chose the prime minister to lead the Likud and the choice is his,” said Yariv Levin, who in recent days has been rumored to be the next coalition chairman.

Former Likud MK Carmel Shama-Hacohen, who failed to make it into the 19th Knesset, told Israel Radio that the younger members of the party were justifiably disgruntled because they had done well in the primary elections and had reason to expect professional advancement. However, Shama-Hacohen added, the party members should embrace the role of chairing Knesset committees as they offered the opportunity for “real, direct, public action.”

Deputy ministerships and committee chair posts were being found for other Likud up-and-comers Miri Regev, Gila Gamliel, Ofir Akunis and Tzipi Hotovely. Akunis will liaise between the government and the Knesset.

Former coalition charman Ze’ev Elkin was slated to be confirmed as deputy foreign minister. Elkin is to run the ministry in the absence of Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman until the latter’s legal battles are resolved, and then to work as Liberman’s deputy should he be cleared of charges of fraud and breach of trust.

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett met with his party members and told them what positions they’d receive in the next government.

In addition to Bennett — who will head the Jerusalem and diaspora ministry as well as the economics and trade ministry, — the national-religious party’s Uri Orbach was named senior citizens minister and Uri Ariel was handed the housing portfolio.

Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan was named deputy religious affairs minister. He will in fact run the office, while the portfolio is officially held by Bennett.

MK Nissan Slomiansky will head the powerful Knesset Finance Commitee. Avi Wortzman, a first time MK was named deputy education minister and Ayelet Shaked — the lone non-religious face on the list — will head the faction in the Knesset.

On Saturday, Netanyahu met with President Shimon Peres to tell him that he had managed to muster a majority coalition. Peres charged him with the task on February 2, in the wake of the January 22 elections, and gave him a two-week extension four weeks later, making Saturday the final day of Netanyahu’s maximal six-week allocation.

“I’ve fulfilled the mission with which you entrusted me,” the prime minister told the president.

Netanyahu was able to report on his success after the Jewish Home and Yesh Atid parties finally signed a coalition agreement with Likud-Beytenu Friday afternoon, paving the way for the new government to be sworn in on Monday.

Earlier on Saturday, Netanyahu also formally informed the Knesset’s acting speaker, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, that the work of building a new coalition was complete.

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