Israel’s new cabinet takes shape with last-minute changes

Senior Likud Party figures still waiting to discover what cabinet positions await them as the national unity government prepares to be sworn in Thursday.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

The final jockeying for political position within the national unity government was coming down to the wire Wednesday, a day before the new government is due to be sworn in.

The clouds of uncertainty during weeks of intensive bargaining and power-politicking will finally part when the national unity government formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz takes office Thursday in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

The unity deal the two agreed on in order to face the coronavirus health and economic crisis centers around a power-sharing deal: Netanyahu will serve as prime minister for 18 months and then be replaced by Gantz for 18 months. The two will then rotate again for six months each.

Netanyahu has headed a transitional government for the past 16 months since the Knesset decided in December 2018 to go to elections. However, three elections followed with each one producing inconclusive results where neither leader could muster a majority of 61 seats.

To avoid a fourth – and potentially also inconclusive – national election, Gantz chose to join a Netanyahu-led unity government, something he had pledged never to do, saying the pandemic demanded hard decisions.

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In order to satisfy both parties, Netanyahu was forced to create the largest cabinet in Israeli history with at least 36 ministers along with a record number of deputy ministers.

Those positions, together with powerful chairmanship of parliamentary committees, are being allocated to the coalition members that include Likud, Blue and White, the religious Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, two members from the left-wing Labor Party and an expected ministry for the Gesher Party, whose leader Orli Levy Abekasis has flip-flopped between right and left over the past few years.

In order to free up a cabinet position, Netanyahu convinced Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan to take positions as Israel’s ambassador to both the U.S. and the UN. He will apparently start at the UN, replacing current ambassador Danny Danon, and eventually replace incumbent Ambassador  Ron Dermer.

Still waiting to hear which position they may or may not get are Likud members Gidon Sa’ar, who has challenged Netanyahu’s leadership, Gila Gamaliel and former Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

With several cabinet positions and almost a dozen deputy ministerial positions still to be filled, Netanyahu and Gantz have some maneuvering room to try and keep their coalition partners happy for the short-term, or induce outgoing Defense Minister Naftali Bennett‘s reluctant Yemina Party to join them.

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Although it might change by the time the Knesset is sworn in Thursday, here is what the national unity government is going to look like so far:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud)
Minister of Defense: Gabi Ashkenazi (Blue and White)
Minister of Foreign Affairs: Benny Gantz (Blue and White)
Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy Yoav Galant (Likud)
Minister of Aliyah and Integration: Pnina Tamano Shatta (Blue and White)
Minister of Housing and Construction: Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism)
Minister of Culture and Sport: Hilly Tropper  (Blue and White)
Minister of the Interior: Aryeh Deri (Shas)
Minister of the Development of the Negev and Galilee: Aryeh Deri (Shas)
Minister of Religious Affairs: Shas – TBA
Minister of the Economy: Amir Peretz (Labor)
Minister of Finance: Yisrael Katz (Likud)
Minister of Health: Yuli Edelstein (Likud)
Minister of Jerusalem Affairs: TBA
Minister of Environmental Protection Zeev Elkin (Likud)
Minister of Internal Security: Amir Ohana (Likud)
Minister of Strategic Affairs: TBA
Minister of Labor and Social Affairs: Itzik Shmuli (Labor)
Minister of Tourism: Asaf Zamir (Blue and White)
Minister of Justice: Avi Nissenkorn (Blue and White)
Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water: TBA
Minister of Regional Cooperation: Ofir Akunis (Likud)
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development: Alon Schuster (Blue and White)
Minister of Science and Space: Izhar Shay (Blue and White) or Orit Farkash-Hacohen (Blue and White)
Minister of Welfare and Social Services: TBA
Minister for Senior Citizens: TBA
Minister of Communications: Yoaz Handel (Blue and White)
Minister of Education: Yuval Steinitz (Likud)
Minister of Transportation: Miri Regev (Likud)
Minister of Diaspora Affairs: Michael Biton (Blue and White) or Omer Yankelevitch (Blue and White)
Minister of Minority Affairs: TBA (Blue and White)
Minister for Social Equality: Meirav Cohen (Blue and White)

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Deputy ministers
Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Affairs – Meshulam Nahari (Shas)
Deputy Minister of Transport: Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism)
Deputy Minister of Finance: Yitzhak Cohen (Shas)
Deputy Minister of Education: Meir Perush (United Torah Judaism)
Deputy Minister to Deri in his ministries: Yoav Ben Tzur (Shas)

Key positions:

Speaker of the Knesset: Yariv Levin (Likud)

Deputy Speaker of the Knesset: Michael Malchieli (Shas)

Committee chairs:

Chairman of the Economics Committee: Yaakov Margi (Shas)
Finance Committee Chair: Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism)
Chairman of the Half-term Constitution Committee: Yaakov Asher (United Torah Judaism)
Chairman of the Committee for Public Inquiries, half term each: Israel Eichler (United Torah Judaism) and Yaakov Tesler (United Torah Judaism)
Speaker of the Knesset Committee: Eitan Ginzburg (Blue and White)
Debt Committee Chair: Zvi Hauser (Derech Eretz)
Chairman of the Interior Committee: Miki Haimovich (Blue and White)