Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made considerable progress toward building what is set to be a 70-strong coalition, sources close to the negotiations said Friday evening. They stressed, however, that the key deals had yet to be signed, and nothing would be concrete until they were.
The coalition, set to be finalized early next week, will comprise Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu (31 seats), Yesh Atid (19), Jewish Home (12), Hatnua (6) and Kadima (2). Labor would lead the opposition, in which the two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, would also sit, the sources said.
They added that Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who had hoped to become foreign minister, will instead serve as finance minister. Jewish Home chief Naftali Bennett will be minister of trade and industry. The Foreign Ministry post will be kept open for former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, who resigned in December to fight corruption charges and hopes to return quickly to the post after clearing his name.
The defense minister is likely to be former IDF chief of the General Staff Moshe Ya’alon (Likud), housing could well go to Jewish Home’s Uri Ariel, while the same party’s Eli Ben Dahan could take religious affairs, and Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz could become minister of welfare. Many ministerial positions, in a cabinet set to number 23-25 ministers, have yet to be finalized, the sources said.
Israeli website News1 said Yesh Atid would also receive at least four ministerial positions in addition to finance, including the Education Ministry, which MK Rabbi Shai Piron would likely head.
Netanyahu, who has until next Saturday to form a coalition, will likely aim to present an agreement to President Shimon Peres upon Peres’s return next Wednesday from a sojourn in Europe.
If Netanyahu failed to present a new government in time — he is already in the midst of a 14-day extension granted him by Peres on March 2 after his first 28 days of efforts proved futile — the president would either tap another politician as presumptive prime minister, or call another round of elections. But that prospect, always unlikely, is receding all the time, the sources said, and Netanyahu is said to be aiming for a Wednesday or Thursday swearing-in ceremony for his new government.
Netanyahu’s cabinet is expected to number 23-25 ministers, several fewer than he wanted, and several more than Lapid had sought in an effort to slim down what he’s termed Israel’s “bloated” executive branch.
According to Israel Radio, the cabinet posts would be filled by eight ministers from Likud, six from Yesh Atid, four from Jewish Home, three from Yisrael Beytenu, two from Hatnua, and one from Kadima.
Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua, with six seats, is the only party to date to have signed with Likud-Beytenu. In addition to the position of justice minister, Livni was promised the right to lead peace talks with the Palestinians.
Long before Wednesday’s kidnapping of UN peacekeepers in the Syrian Golan Heights, segments of the the United Nations Disengagement Observation Force (UNDOF) knew their mission was taking a turn for the worse.
In January, the Japanese government, alarmed by the quickly deteriorating security situation in southern Syria, withdrew its troops from UNDOF, bringing the number of peacekeepers to below 1,000.
Israel has long been on high – yet quiet – alert on its border with Syria, as the IDF observes the battles taking place under its nose, just over the frontier.
Soldiers can hear artillery fire and see the movement of rebel gunmen and Syrian soldiers. Although a new border fence with electronic sensors has been erected, the army is under no illusion that a hi-tech obstacle can stop all attacks. It is preparing for the potential of future jihadi attacks from the Syrian Golan, which might take the form of shells, small arms fire, attempts to infiltrate the border or bombings.
The current UN hostage crisis is being viewed by the IDF as an internal Syrian affair which has no direct consequences for Israeli security. At the same time, it is an unmistakable signal that the Syrian Golan is heading down the road of anarchy, and is quickly becoming a hotbed for gunmen with radical affiliations as Syria continues its slow-motion collapse.
Peacekeepers from the UN’s UNDOF mission have ceased patrolling the Israel-Syria Golan Heights border area at night, for fear of being kidnapped or hurt in the violence in the area, Israeli TV reported on Friday night.
The news came as the UN continued efforts to extricate 21 members of UNDOF from the Philippines who have been held captive since being kidnapped Wednesday by rebels from a group calling itself the Martyrs of the Yarmouk Brigades. Their convoy was stopped on the outskirts of Jamlah, a Golan village less than a mile from the Israeli border. Eight more UN peacekeepers fled to Israel Friday, abandoning their posts to escape the fighting between the rebel groups and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.
The reduced patrols in the buffer zone, which extends for some 50 miles along the border, are already enabling al-Qaeda forces among the Syrian rebels to take greater control of the Syrian side of the Israeli border, and Israel has accelerated work to bolster security at the fence, Channel 10 reported Friday night. Israel has also deployed troops from the standing army to replace the reservists who usually guard the border, the report added.
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