Israel coalition talks stuck as sides squabble over appointments

Political parties fighting over who gets what might force a bloated 30-member cabinet in a unity government with one in every four Knesset members a minister.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Negotiations to form an emergency government of national unity appear to be bogging down as politicians fight for lucrative cabinet positions and whether or not Israel will apply sovereignty over settlements, Israel Hayom reported Wednesday.

The main parties, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and the Blue and White party of opposition leader Benny Gantz, are holding intensive talks to hammer out the details of which parties get which cabinet portfolios, with pressure from smaller parties to get a slice of the pie.

Two key sticking points are the justice ministry and whether or not Israel will extend sovereignty to settlements in Judea and Samaria, the report said.

Gantz’s party is pushing former national trade union chief Avi Nissenkorn for the justice portfolio, but Likud strongly objects and wants their own candidate, given previous attempts by Blue and White to enact legislation to try and force Netanyahu from office.

The Likud is currently unwilling to give up on their intention to impose Israeli sovereignty of settlements, exploiting an opening in U.S. President Trump’s peace proposal. However, Blue and White members are pushing back even though Gantz had previously said he would support annexation of the Jordan Valley.

Read  'TRIPLE-BARREL PRESSURE': Israeli lawmakers call for demolition of Bedouin outpost

Another contentious issue is the Blue and White demand for the health ministry – the highest profile cabinet job given the corona crisis – but incumbent minister Yaakov Litzman is refusing. Netanyahu needs the support of the seven members of Litzman’s United Torah Judaism Party.

Although reports said Netanyahu and Gantz initially planned to split the cabinet positions between the two parties, pressure is mounting over the addition of smaller parties into the unity government that would most likely result in them getting cabinet positions.

Senior Likud Party member Gideon Sa’ar, who last year challenged Netanyahu for the Likud leadership, criticized the bloated size of the proposed unity government where as many as 30 cabinet members – one in four members of parliament – may be appointed. Sa’ar said the economic crisis meant the government should be cutting costs everywhere it could.

Israel needs a “skinny government,” Sa’ar tweeted. “Although there have been big governments in the history of Israel, it is wrong to form the most inflated government ever during the worst economic crisis.”

For his part, Gantz was trying to project a business-as-usual image despite the high-pressure coalition negotiations with Netanyahu.

Gantz lifted the previous restriction on only three members at a time in the 120-seat Knesset, saying the proper work of the legislature still had to be carried out in the face of the coronavirus restrictions.

Read  'TRIPLE-BARREL PRESSURE': Israeli lawmakers call for demolition of Bedouin outpost

“We have now decided to increase the number of Knesset members who can stay simultaneously in the plenum to 18. My goal is to allow the Knesset to operate as best as possible in the circumstances.”