The Likud, Yamina, United Torah Judaism and Shas parties, which are negotiating in coalition talks with Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party as a single bloc, are going to get at least 15 ministries in total in the new government, according to reports on Sunday.
According to the reports, the imminent deal would also see the 15-member Blue and White — possibly joined by the four members of Labor and Gesher and by Telem MKs Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, formerly of Blue and White — receive a similar number of cabinet portfolios, meaning almost every MK in Gantz’s party will become a minister.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gantz held an all-night meeting into Sunday morning on the terms of a unity government, which they were hoping to finalize later Sunday. A joint statement from the two said they reached “understandings and significant progress” during the talks at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, without elaborating. Further talks would be held later Sunday with the aim of reaching a signed deal, according to the statement.
In an op-ed for The Times of Israel Sunday, Gantz wrote that he was set to join forces with Netanyahu because, “At this time of crisis, I had no choice but to put politics aside and choose the only path that allows us to avoid fourth elections.”
He added: “I chose the only path which positions Israel to effectively fight this horrific pandemic: the path of a national emergency government.” And responding to criticism from his former allies, he wrote: “There has been a lot of discussion recently about campaign promises, but my core promise to the Israeli public will never change: Israel will always come before everything else.”
The equal or near-equal share comes despite Netanyahu’s bloc numbering 58 lawmakers, many of whom will be disappointed and some of whom — like Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich — have expressed criticism of the emerging government.
According to Channel 12, the ministries to be handed to Netanyahu’s bloc are: finance, public security, transportation, education, health, interior, Negev and Galilee, energy, environmental protection, housing and construction, religious affairs, intelligence, regional cooperation, Jerusalem and heritage, and — for at least the next 18 months — the premiership.
Various reports said Blue and White and its allies were to receive the following ministries: defense, foreign, justice, communications, economy, agriculture, welfare, culture, tourism, science, Diaspora, social equality and immigration and absorption.
According to the emerging deal, Gantz is set to partner with Netanyahu in a coalition and serve initially as defense minister before taking over as prime minister in September 2021, though many political analysts doubt that such a rotation will actually take place. Gabi Ashkenazi, Gantz’s deputy, is set to be foreign minister and then take over the Defense Ministry if Gantz becomes prime minister.
Another possibility reported Sunday was that Gantz’s party could give up the position of foreign minister, which is high-ranking but relatively low on influence, in exchange for other portfolios.
Channel 12 reported that Culture Minister Miri Regev would replace Gilad Erdan as public security minister, and that Justice Minister Amir Ohana would become transportation minister.
Health Minister Yaakov Litzman would retain his position after refusing to switch to another role despite Gantz’s demands, and so would his fellow United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni, who would stay on as the head of the Knesset’s Finance Committee.
Gantz and Netanyahu have reportedly agreed that Yuli Edelstein will not be reelected Knesset speaker after he resigned from the position last week in order to avoid having to carry out a Supreme Court order he disagreed with. Gantz on Thursday accused Edelstein of “spitting in the face” of the High Court justices. The speaker’s role will go to another Likud member instead, likely Tourism Minister Yariv Levin.
Also in the coalition talks, Channel 12 said the immigration and absorption portfolio was likely to go to MK Pnina Tamano-Shata, who on Sunday announced she was jumping ship from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid faction within Blue and White and joining Gantz.
It would be a blow to Gadi Yevarkan, a former Blue and White MK who defected before the March 2 elections to join Likud, and who had previously been promised the role.
The Globes news site issued a list of likely minister portfolios and other senior positions to be held by Blue and White and the Labor and Gesher parties, if they joined, including who would be appointed to each one.
According to the report, which stressed the details weren’t final, Gantz would be defense minister, Eitan Gintzburg would be deputy defense minister, Ashkenazi would be foreign minister, and Labor leader Amir Peretz would be agriculture minister, with Blue and White’s Alon Schuster as his deputy.
Michael Biton would be economy minister, Yizhar Shai science minister, Avi Nissenkorn justice minister — although Likud opposes that appointment. Merav Cohen would be welfare minister with Labor’s Itzik Shmuli as her deputy, Pnina Tamano-Shata would be immigration and absorption minister and Chili Tropper would be tourism minister.
Zvi Hauser would be Diaspora minister, Orit Farkash-Hacohen would be communications minister, Asaf Zamir would be culture minister, Miki Haimovich would be social equality minister with Omer Yankelevich as her deputy, Yoaz Hendel would head the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abekasis would head the Welfare Committee and Ram Shefa would be a deputy Knesset speaker.
A separate report said that Yankelevich was expected to be tapped as Jerusalem affairs minister, becoming Israel’s first-ever female ultra-Orthodox minister.
The unity talks came after Gantz in a shock move was elected Knesset speaker Thursday, setting the stage for a coalition with Netanyahu, leading to the splintering of the Blue and White alliance, which had campaigned during the three elections over the past year on not joining a government led by Netanyahu due to his indictment on graft charges.
As part of the negotiations, Netanyahu is seeking legislation saying that an acting prime minister under indictment can continue to serve, in order to ensure he can fill that role when his prime ministerial rotation with Gantz is slated to go into effect. Currently, ministers must resign if they face criminal charges, but the law does not explicitly refer to a prime minister.
Following Gantz’s election Thursday as Knesset speaker, the Yesh Atid and Telem factions filed a formal request to break away from Blue and White, leaving only Gantz’s faction to join forces with Netanyahu’s Likud-led bloc.
On Sunday afternoon, Gantz’s faction — originally called Israel Resilience — was given approval to keep using the Blue and White party name.
Gantz and his colleagues in Blue and White have said that the only alternative to joining a Netanyahu-led coalition would have been a fourth round of elections and that a government is needed to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.
Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, the leader of Telem, have categorically rejected entering a unity government with Likud as long as it is headed by Netanyahu. Both have harshly criticized Gantz for breaking up their alliance, with Lapid excoriating him during a press conference with Ya’alon on Thursday for “crawling” into a coalition of “extremists and extortionists.”