So Avigdor Liberman is Israel’s new Defence Minister, right..? Well, not yet. Negotiations are ongoing for the now-5-seat Israel Beiteinu to join the coalition, with Liberman getting Defence and some sort of vote on the use of death penalty in military courts which might or might not actually happen.
But one big ‘red line’ remains. Liberman wants substantial increases in pensions for Russian olim, costing something like a billion shekels. This is in many ways a good policy to lift people out of poverty, but it faces two problems. One is that it’s hard to justify applying it only to Russian olim and not, say, Ethiopian or Argentinian or French olim — which means it might end up being expanded by the Supreme Court and costing even more.
The other problem is that the budget is controlled, in the first instance, by Moshe Kahlon of the Kulanu party, who said he supports widening the coalition but not at any price. He opposes the plan, and claims it is discriminatory. According to one report, Kahlon said Netanyahu would have to fire him to get his billion shekels.
Then there’s Bayit Yehudi. The party voted unanimously at today’s faction meeting that it would only vote for the wider coalition if the recommendations of the report into the 2014 Defensive Edge war were accepted in full. The report, due out tomorrow, has been substantially leaked and is expected to be highly critical of Netanyahu, Yaalon and the way decisions were taken. Bennett in particular is demanding that the Security Cabinet is given fuller intelligence briefings. Likud MKs have reacted angrily to Bennett’s conditions.
The report is due out tomorrow and I’ve already seen speculation that the reason Netanyahu was so willing to oust Yaalon is because it will insulate him from some of the criticism. Other cynics have suggested that the new coalition deal will be signed minutes before/after the report is released.
And then, hovering in the background of all of this, is the French peace initiative, which will formally start with a multilateral conference in early June with various Foreign Ministers. John Kerry is now expected to attend, but Israelis and Palestinians are not invited.
And despite everything, Netanyahu is still saying that he wants Labour/the Zionist Union to join the coalition, and that he’s not appointing a Foreign Minister for this reason. This seems doubly unlikely, now that ZU Leader Isaac Herzog has refused to conduct any more negotiations, and because Herzog might find himself forced out of the party leadership for holding coalition talks in the first place.
More likely, he’s holding the role (and several others like the Economy Ministry) because appointing anyone would necessitate a whole Government reshuffle, and he’s not willing to go through all that again. The question for the next couple of days is how long Netanyahu will keep his newest job – as acting Defence Minister.
Intl. Coop Minister
Defence Minister pic.twitter.com/rYZgw1jbwp
— Anshel Pfeffer (@AnshelPfeffer) May 23, 2016
Meanwhile, two Knesset members resigned in the last week: Moshe Yaalon and UTJ’s Meir Porush, who remains a deputy-Minister but left the Knesset to allow a Degel HaTorah member to take his place as part of some sort of deal inside the smaller parties that make up UTJ. Two more are considering leaving – Miki Zohar and Ayoub Kara, both current Likud members. The current Knesset has been seated for a little over a year, but it’s had a remarkably high number of resignations.