In the economic climate created by the coronavirus crisis, Israel cannot afford the next government to be the largest in its history, and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz has the ability to prevent this, Likud MK and former leadership contender Gideon Sa’ar said in an interview with Channel 12 on Tuesday evening.
He spoke as a source close to negotiations told Channel 13 news that a crucial video conference call was being held between the sides on Tuesday evening, and that if no deal between Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reached by the weekend it might not be made at all.
Sa’ar said the key to reducing the size of the government lay with Gantz demanding less than half of ministerial positions — as his party is currently seeking.
“Fifteen ministries for the 58 seats of the right-wing bloc seems like a reasonable or even modest key, but 15 ministries for a faction with 15 seats is completely unrealistic,” Sa’ar said. “An evenly balanced government does not justify having an equal number of ministers.”
He suggested enshrining Blue and White’s status as an equal partner to the right-wing bloc through other means.
Sa’ar’s comments came amid stalled talks on the formation of a unity government after a third election under a year, and amid speculation that Netanyahu is playing for time in order to lower Gantz’s demands after the Blue and White leader’s decision to seek a unity government split his party from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem.
Sa’ar said that at a time when the burden of the crisis is falling primarily on the private sector, any government should be “narrow”
“While there have been large governments before in Israel’s history, it would not be the right thing to set up the most inflated government in its history at the time of its worst economic crisis,” he added.
In an apparent veiled swipe at Netanyahu, Sa’ar noted that he “remembers someone’s comments about the thin man and the fat man” — a reference to remarks made by Netanyahu in 2003, when he served as finance minister in Ariel Sharon’s government. Israel was in the midst of an economic crisis as the Second Intifada raged, and Netanyahu described the public sector as a fat man being carried on the back of a thin man — the private sector.
Reports have claimed that the unity government could have as many as 36 ministers. Israel’s previous largest government was the second Netanyahu government in 2009, which had 30 ministers and nine deputy ministers.
Sa’ar called for senior public sector officials, including government ministers, MKs, judges and directors general to take “significant” pay cuts, which he said should be made on a differential basis according to salary.
On that note, Sa’ar said he would not take an automatic pay update to his salary as an MK this year. “You don’t have to wait for legislation or government programs. Each and every MK can do that today.”
He also called for public sector final salary pensions to be cut according to the same differential principles and for efficiency measures to be taken in the public sector.