Government has 34 ministers, more than agreed in unity deal

PM announces 19 ministers from his bloc, despite coalition deal handing it 18

Blue and White agree to Tzachi Hanegbi being made an additional minister, without portfolio, for several months before replacing Hotovely when she becomes ambassador to UK

Likud MKs Tzipi Hotovely (L) and Tzachi Hanegbi at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on July 21, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Likud MKs Tzipi Hotovely (L) and Tzachi Hanegbi at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on July 21, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday confirmed a list of 19 ministers who would serve in Israel’s 35th government, despite a deal with Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party according to which the Likud-led bloc would receive 18 portfolios.

According to Channel 12 news, Gantz agreed that Tzachi Hanegbi would serve as a minister without portfolio for a few months until Tzipi Hotovely departs to become Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, at which point he will replace her as settlements minister.

Blue and White confirmed to The Times of Israel that the party agreed to Netanyahu announcing 19 ministers from his bloc, but asserted that only the votes of 16 ministers from each bloc will count in the cabinet, maintaining the equal power-sharing principle of the new coalition.

“I am happy to announce that I have decided to appoint Tzipi Hotovely to the post of settlements minister. She will be an important partner in the history that will lead to the application of sovereignty over settlements in Judea and Samaria, while at the same time taking care of all matters of religious Zionism that are an important part of the Likud movement,” Netanyahu said in the Knesset plenum during a speech introducing the new unity government, using the biblical name for the West Bank.

Netanyahu said that Hanegbi would work alongside Hotovely to set up the new Settlements Ministry.

The prime minister on Sunday also tapped Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin, the outgoing environmental protection minister, for the newly created positions of “minister of higher education” and “minister of water resources” in the new government.

According to a statement from the Likud party, the higher education portfolio includes responsibility for universities and all additional educational programs outside of the framework of regular schooling previously under the auspices of the Education Ministry. The water resources portfolio includes “all water issues that were the responsibility of the Ministry of Energy.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presenting the 35th government of Israel to the Knesset, May 17, 2020. (Knesset/Kobi Gideon)

Under the coalition deal signed last month between Likud and Blue and White, the new government would initially have 34 ministers, which were supposed to be divided equally between the Netanyahu- and Gantz-led blocs, before swelling to 36 in six months in what would be the largest government in Israel’s history.

Blue and White, along with bloc partners Labor and Derech Eretz, received half of all cabinet posts, but Gantz chose not to fill his quota of ministers due to a lack of MKs after the Yesh Atid and Telem factions split away from Blue and White ahead of the deal with Netanyahu. In addition, there was increased public pressure over the high financial cost to the public coffers of having a large number of ministries.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu struggled to dole out a limited number of cabinet posts to disgruntled senior members of his Likud party.

On Thursday, hours before Israel’s new unity government was finally set to be sworn in, the event was pushed off to Sunday, after Netanyahu faced a minor mutiny in his own party. Numerous Likud MKs, some of them ministers and veteran lawmakers, were privately, and in some cases publicly, rebelling against the prime minister, furious that they had been offered minor government positions or no post at all. Hanegbi had vowed to boycott the swearing-in ceremony if he was passed over for a ministerial position.

Ultimately, while he granted Hanegbi a seat at the cabinet table, Netanyahu ended up snubbing senior Likud lawmakers Nir Barkat and Avi Dichter.

Netanyahu last week signed coalition agreements with his long-time ultra-Orthodox allies, United Torah Judaism and Shas, as well as Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher.

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