Likud lawmakers Nir Barkat and Yoav Galant are battling to become education minister in the new government, Israeli television reported Friday. The job is one of the last unfilled senior positions still available as Prime Minister Minister Benjamin Netanyahu works to finish dispensing ministerial portfolios to members of his party.
Quoting sources close to Netanyahu, Channel 13 news reported that the appointment was seen as critical as it could determine Galant and Barkat’s political future, with whoever loses out on the Education Ministry likely relegated to a much less prestigious post in the new government.
Barkat was seen as having an edge over Galant for the position, the report said.
Barkat, a former mayor of Jerusalem, entered the Knesset last year after finishing in the top 10 of the Likud primaries and was tapped by Netanyahu as the next finance minister ahead of the March 2 elections.
However, that post has now been given to MK Israel Katz, one of Likud’s most senior lawmakers.
“We face many challenges in light of the coronavirus crisis, and I am certain that minister Katz is the right man for the job,” the premier said of Katz, the outgoing foreign minister, Friday.
Galant, a former IDF general and outgoing immigration minister, also fared well in the Likud primaries after leaving the Kulanu party, finishing just ahead of Barkat.
Separately, Channel 12 news reported that Netanyahu was putting together a new ministry of settlement affairs in a sop to national-religious voters after leaving the Yamina party out of the government.
The position was expected to go initially to Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely and after 18 months fellow MK Tzachi Hanegbi could take over, the report said.
Netanyahu was intent on finalizing the ministerial appointments by Saturday night, according to Channel 13, ahead of Sunday’s scheduled swearing-in of the government.
The swearing-in was set to be held Thursday, but was pushed off to allow Netanyahu more time to finish allocating portfolios to Likud lawmakers.
Earlier Friday, Netanyahu, who has been struggling to mollify his senior party members as he hands out a limited number of cabinet posts, said he would appoint his ally MK David Amsalem to the post of minister in charge of liaising between the government and the Knesset.
Meanwhile, Likud MK Ofir Akunis, who holds both the Welfare and Science and Technology portfolios in the outgoing government, will be appointed minister for regional cooperation.
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.
At least two, Avi Dichter and Hanegbi, passed over for ministerial positions, vowed to boycott the swearing-in ceremony. Barkat reportedly rejected a minor ministerial post, as did fellow Likud MK Gila Gamliel.
The decision to push off the ceremony meant the ending to Israel’s 500-plus days of political deadlock — which included three inconclusive election cycles and numerous repeated failed attempts to form a government — would have to wait.
The two sides have until midnight on Wednesday to swear in the new government before new elections are automatically triggered. Most analysts believe Netanyahu will prove able to weather the crisis, and that the coalition will be sworn in next week.
Under the coalition deal signed last month between Likud and Blue and White, the new government will initially have at least 32 ministers — 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.