Lieberman set to retake Israeli Foreign Ministry

Avigdor Lieberman likely to retain Foreign Ministry while Naftali Bennett eyes Religious Affair Ministry in talks to form coalition government

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Yisrael Beitenu party leader Avigdor Lieberman looks set to keep control of the Israeli Foreign Ministry after meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Friday as negotiations to form a coalition government continue.

Israel’s Channel 2 reported Netanyahu met Lieberman after meeting with Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, who has also expressed interested in taking control of the Foreign Ministry.

However, according to the report, Bennett said he is willing to retract his demand for the Foreign Ministry if Lieberman lobbies on his behalf for the Religious Affairs Ministry.

The Religious Affairs Ministry is currently held by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party leader Aryeh Deri, who is reportedly willing to settle for the Transportation Ministry in spite of Likud’s Yisrael Katz insisting he keeps control over it.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, whose right-wing Likud party won the elections in March with 30 seats, has until early May to form a 61-seat coalition to secure a majority in the 120-seat Israeli Knesset (parliament).

Overall, right-wing parties took 67 seats while the center-left and Arab parties took a total of 53. However, disunity among right-wing parties is proving to make Netanyahu’s job difficult, leading to speculation that he may reach out to election runner-up Isaac Herzog from the left-wing Zionist Union, which won 24 seats in the election.

Prior to the elections, Netanyahu ruled out a coalition with the Zionist Union, which was established in December 2014 when Herzog’s Labor Party merged with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah party.

Nonetheless, Likud party members signed a petition urging Netanyahu to steer Likud away from uniting with the left-wing bloc and ensure that far-right party Jewish Home becomes a partner in the coalition after Likud member and Interior Minister Gilad Erdan suggested divisions among right-wing parties may force Likud to turn to their left-wing rivals.

Even then, Likud and Zionist Union would not have enough seats to form a government, with right-wing party leaders including Lieberman threatening to not to cooperate with any government that involves the left.

If a new government is not formed by the deadline and the responsibility of forming the coalition is given to Herzog, he may reach out to Netanyahu’s Likud to form a coalition, which would be the likeliest possibility considering that Zionist Union rejected forming a coalition with third-placed pro-Arab party Joint List.

However, Likud’s Development of the Negev and Galilee Minister Silvan Shalom reassured on Channel Ten's "Central Headquarters" program that most ministerial portfolios had been settled and Netanyahu will meet President Rivlin’s deadline.

Israel’s Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon, dubbed by Israeli media as a possible “kingmaker” ahead of the elections, reportedly boycotted talks with Likud after Prime Minister Netanyahu gave control of the Knesset Finance Committee to Moshe Gafni, the head of the United Torah Judaism party.

Kahlon, who is seeking Kulanu control of Israel’s Finance Ministry, also demanded his party be given the Knesset Finance Committee as a prerequisite to his cooperation with the new government.

Former Likud member Moshe Kahlon, who broke off to found his new fifth-placed Kulanu Party, is also seeking entry for fourth-placed centrist party Yesh Atid to Netanyahu’s coalition.

With 11 and 10 seats respectively, Yesh Atid and Kulanu have a combined 21 seats, and can therefore add considerable leverage to any coalition.

TRTWorld and agencies