As unity talks were proceeding between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz, the religious hawkish Yamina party on Monday stepped up warnings that it could end up not joining the emerging unity government, as the premier was appearing to make significant concessions to the center-left bloc and sidelining Yamina’s ministers.
Various unconfirmed reports Sunday said that in the emerging government, Yamina would be cut down from three current minister positions — Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Education Minister Rafi Peretz — to just the education portfolio.
Meanwhile, a different possibility being discussed was that Likud’s Miri Regev, currently culture minister, would become education minister.
Amid criticism that his government will give too much power to the center and center-left factions, Netanyahu spoke to his right-wing and religious political allies on Sunday night to reassure them about the coalition talks, calling reports on the distribution of cabinet portfolios “total fake news.”
However, that didn’t seem to convince Yamina’s former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, who told Army Radio on Monday that “we have been part of the right-wing bloc for three difficult elections, and I would like to hope that Netanyahu won’t break up this bloc.
“We need to see what government will be formed,” she said, adding that going to the opposition was an option. “Right now, according to reports it seems like everything that is important to the ideological right wing and to Yamina is being handed to the left wing.”
Shaked said that as justice minister, she had fought to apply transparency laws to the Histadrut and to prepare for annexation of West Bank areas, efforts she said would be reversed if Blue and White’s bloc gained control of the office.
On Sunday, Channel 12 quoted a senior source in Yamina as accusing Netanyahu of “again stabbing religious Zionism in the back” and “boycotting Yamina and leaving us for last.” The source claimed that “this betrayal means the end of the right-wing bloc.”
In light of Yamina’s threats, Likud has been demanding that the new government contain no less than 36 minister portfolios, according to Blue and White sources cited by Hebrew-language media.
A Likud source told The Times of Israel that the current draft of the deal being discussed by Likud and Blue and White negotiators sees parity between the religious-right and center-left blocs, with several concessions being made on both sides.
Netanyahu’s Likud party said in a statement that the prime minister “made it clear that the preservation of the national camp is more important than ever,” during negotiations with Blue and White on the formation of a national unity government.
“The prime minister has also made it clear to the faction leaders that many media publications on the negotiations, including division of duties, were total fake news,” the statement added.
A flurry of reports on Sunday suggested that the Likud, Yamina, United Torah Judaism and Shas parties, which are negotiating in coalition talks with Blue and White as a single bloc, were going to get at least 15 ministries in total in the new government.
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.
The unity talks came after Gantz in a shock move was elected Knesset speaker Thursday, setting the stage for a coalition with Netanyahu and leading to the splintering of the Blue and White alliance, which had campaigned during the three elections over the past year on ousting Netanyahu due to his indictment on graft charges.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.