Negotiations for the formation of a new governing coalition got off to a shaky start this week, with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s prospective partners angling for outsize influence.
One such party is Jewish Home, whose leader, Naftali Bennett, railed against Netanyahu on Wednesday, accusing the prime minister of treating him and his constituents like “suckers” by refusing to grant his demand for either the foreign affairs or defense ministership.
The hawkish Jewish Home is seen as a close ally of Netanyahu’s Likud party, but a lackluster showing in the elections – eight Knesset seats, down from 12 – has left it in an inferior bargaining position.
“The prime minister is building on the the assumption that our public are suckers,” Bennett told a Jewish Home party activist event Wednesday in a recording obtained by Israel Radio. According to leaks from the coalition talks, Netanyahu has offered Bennett the post of education minister, which is perceived as a demotion from his current position, economy minister, and a far cry from the prestigious defense and foreign affairs portfolios.
“Is it set in stone that [Shas party leader] Aryeh Deri will get the Interior Ministry? Is it set in stone that Shas will run roughshod over us in the religious domain?” Bennett asked. The Shas party, which won seven seats in the election, is reportedly slated to receive both the interior and religious affairs ministries.
“Everything’s set in stone except for the Jewish Home, because we have values,” he said. Bennett was alluding to polls indicating that his party had bled several seats to Likud on Election Day, as voters rallied to shore up Netanyahu in the face of a perceived threat of a left-wing government rising to power.
Given the rickety nature of Israel’s electoral system, Netanyahu must cobble together a coalition comprising smaller parties by offering cabinet positions – including, possibly, senior ministerships – to factions whose support he needs to form a Knesset majority. Lawmakers within his own Likud party have also demanded top jobs, citing the party’s 30 seats, which make it the largest faction by far.
The game of give-and-take could prove difficult for Netanyahu because of opposing inter-party interests and ideologies, as well as steep demands for ministerial posts.
Read more: The Times of Israel