In the run-up to an expected High Court of Justice decision on whether to reopen the issue of the prime minister’s multiple ministerial portfolios, the government announced Tuesday that Benjamin Netanyahu will give up the regional cooperation ministry in favor of Likud party loyalist Tzachi Hanegbi.
This will leave Netanyahu as the head of three ministries out of the total of 29 — communications and foreign affairs, as well as holding the prime minister post.
Hanegbi currently serves as minister without portfolio.
In April last year, the Yesh Atid party submitted a petition to the High Court against the number of portfolios that Netanyahu had reserved for himself at the time: health, regional cooperation, communications and foreign affairs, as well as the prime ministership.
The court ruled 4-1 that the prime minister could continue holding all four portfolios, but three justices gave the prime minister eight months to reduce the load, saying they might review the situation if he did not, Haaretz reported at the time.
The justices said that it was hard to believe that Netanyahu could properly manage so many ministries and that the situation was not appropriate in a democracy.
The dissenting justice, Hanan Melcer, opposed Netanyahu’s wearing of so many ministerial hats, saving his harshest criticism for the fact that one of those ministries was communications.
“Given that the prime minister heads the executive branch, his activity as communications minister prima facie undermines the separation of powers because the media in the modern world is considered a kind of fourth branch,” Melcer wrote.
Public broadcasting is currently undergoing a massive overhaul in Israel.
Soon afterwards, Netanyahu gave the health portfolio to Yaakov Litzman of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party.
Hanegbi — whose appointment was confirmed by a telephone poll of coalition heads — has served as minister without portfolio since the current government formed in May last year, Haaretz reported Wednesday.
At that point, Netanyahu promised him that this was a temporary situation, and that he would be given a full ministerial portfolio after a year.
Over a long Knesset career which began in 1988, Hanegbi has served as minister of justice, internal security, intelligence and nuclear affairs, health, environment and transport and as minister in the Prime Minister’s Office responsible for overseeing Israel’s intelligence services.
He also served as deputy minister of foreign affairs, as Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee chairman, and majority leader in the Knesset.
In 2010, he was forced out of the Knesset after being convicted of perjury, but was re-elected to parliament in 2013.
Though he split with Netanyahu for several years to join the Kadima party, he later rejoined Likud and is regarded as one of Netanyahu’s most loyal supporters.
Hanegbi’s parents were active in the pre-state Zionist paramilitary organization Lehi, a right-wing underground movement that carried out several high-profile murders as part of its campaign to eject the British from Palestine.
To date, the Regional Cooperation Ministry has been run by the deputy minister for regional affairs, Ayoub Kara (Likud).