We know how Israelis voted — but no one can say with certainty what the next government will look like. The only thing for sure is that Benjamin Netanyahu will continue to serve as Israel’s prime minister, and that the 19th Knesset’s second largest party–the centrist Yesh Atid–will serve in the government, according to the statements of Yair Lapid, the party’s leader.
For now, the rest is speculation. But with a coalition negotiation period that could take weeks, it’s worth thinking about who will serve in the cabinet.
Three factions — Likud-Beiteinu, Yesh Atid, and HaBayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home) — could theoretically form a government alone, with 62 seats. Reports today have confirmed this much; according to one report, Netanyahu and Lapid have already agreed to invite HaBayit Hayehudi and Kadima, which makes 64. But both leaders have claimed they want a larger government, but it remains unclear whether Shas, United Torah Judaism, Labor, or Hatnua will actually make it into the government.
Either way, Likud Beitenu, Yesh Atid, Kadima, and HaBayit Hayehudi will likely be at the coalition’s core. With that in mind, here’s a rough sketch of what Israel’s next cabinet may look like:
Prime Minister: Benjamin Netanyahu
With no other real contender, this one’s a given.
Foreign Minister: Yair Lapid
Lapid once indicated that taking the education ministry was his first choice. Had he won 10 seats, it would be a perfect spot for him. But with 19, his party has earned one of the top three slots – reports indicate he has been offered foreign or finance job. Lacking extensive defense or finance experience, the foreign ministry is a safer bet for a beginner – especially as any austerity moves as finance minister could shrink Lapid’s popularity. Lapid’s inexperience in foreign affairs aside, he position as a centrist makes him a better face for Israel abroad than the last Foreign Minister – gruff rightist Avigdor Lieberman, recently indicted for corruption charges. Other options include big names on the Likud-Beitenu list – Gideon Saar, Yair Shamir, and Moshe Yaalon – or more controversial picks, such as Naftali Bennett or even Livni, if HaTnua merges with Yesh Atid.
Defense Minister: Moshe Yaalon
A former IDF Chief of Staff, many feel Yaalon has earned this position – particularly after serving in the relatively lowly position of Strategic Affairs Minister. Yaalon felt cheated in 2009, when Netanyahu appointed Ehud Barak as Defense Minister to bring Labor in as a left-of-center representative in the government. With most party leaders unqualified for the position, the only reason Netanyahu might pick someone else is because of he and Yaalon disagree on the all-important issue of Iran. Reportedly, Yaalon, though hawkish on the Palestinian issue, is far more reluctant than Netanyahu or Barak to start a regional war just to strike Iran’s nuclear facility. If Netanyahu goes out of his way to keep Yaalon – now relatively high on the Likud list – out of the position he covets, see it as assign the Prime Minister wants to act soon on Iran. Yair Shamir is a possibility; Mofaz and Tzachi Hanagbi are less likely picks, along with external appointments like Ehud Barak.
Finance Minister: Yair Shamir
Before the indictment of Yisrael Beiten leader Avigdor Lieberman, it was leaked that he requested either the foreign or finance portfolio when negotiating the Likud-Beitenu list agreement. Though he remains in the Knesset, the indictment means he can no longer serve in cabinet. In the past few days, however, he has publically pushed for Lapid to take the Finance Ministry. If that Lapid doesn’t take the bait, the treasury will be open for someone from Yisrael Beitenu. With a strong record in the private sector, Shamir – Lieberman’s newly chosen number two, and son of a recently decease prime minister – is a candidate for the job. Of course, Lieberman would be set to take over if cleared of criminal charges. Alternatively, Netanyahu could keep incumbent Yuval Steinitz in the job, or give it to high-ranking Likudniks such as Gideon Saar or Gilad Erdan. More likely though, Shamir, Lapid, or Bennett with get the prestigious position.
Internal Affairs Minister: Naftali Bennett
This position is preferred by Shas; Shas leader Eli Yishai has held the title three times in the past twelve years. It isn’t impossible that Shas can still keep that job. But it’s likely that another party will demand it first. Lapid’s father’s secularist party held the position, and Yesh Atid may well demand it today. But it might just be the perfect spot for HaBayit HaYehudi leader Naftali Bennett, giving him a bit of prestige, as well as control over civil issues, some related to settlement building, other related to religion. Lapid may even prefer Bennett in that position, and it would certainly fit in with HaBayit HaYehudi’s domestically focused campaign rhetoric. Speaking of settlements, the party will probably also want the Housing Ministry.
Education Minister: Shai Piron
Lapid spoke frequently about Israel’s decaying education system, and implied that he would serve as Israel’s next Minister of Education. If he were to personally take this modest position, it would very honorable. But with 19 Knesset seats, Yesh Atid has earned more. If Lapid takes a more prestigious ministry, expect him to make sure that his deputy, national-religious Rabbi Shai Piron, serves as Education Minister.
Strategic Affairs Minister: Shaul Mofaz
With a mere two seats, Kadima barely made it into the Knesset, after winning 28 in 2009. Shaul Mofaz is surely a poor politician. But he has a record as a general and as a former Defense Minister, and joining Netanyahu’s coalition should at least earn him a humble ministry like Strategic Affairs – a post invented in 2006 for Lieberman’s ego, and given to Ya’alon as a consolation prize in 2009. A hollow ministry is only appropriate for the leader of a hollowed-out party. If Mofaz is lucky, he can still hope to earn a seat in security cabinet meetings, where his voice would be heard. Odds are low that Netanyahu will upset his party and give Mofaz the Defense Ministry, but there’s a chance that the Strategic Affairs post will be eliminated and Mofaz will become Minister of Public Security or Tourism Minister, a job he held under Olmert.
Geoffrey Levin is a Bologna Fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s Political Science Department and Senior Editor at The Jerusalem Review of Near East Affairs. You can reach him on Twitter @geoff_levin.