Ex-Knesset speaker Edelstein accepts PM’s offer to become health minister

Likud No. 2 will also join security cabinet; Netanyahu also set to meet ministers Israel Katz, Amir Ohana and Miri Regev to discuss their positions in new government

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein gives a press statement in the Knesset, January 12, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein gives a press statement in the Knesset, January 12, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein on Tuesday accepted an offer by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the coveted health portfolio, vowing to steer Israel through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

A joint statement by Netanyahu and Edelstein said the senior Likud member had “accepted the challenge” and “chosen the health portfolio” out of several posts offered to him.

“After serving Israel’s citizens for seven years as Knesset speaker, I have chosen to accept the most central and significant challenge Israel faces, the fight against the coronavirus and preparing Israel’s health system for new challenges,” Edelstein said.

“I thank Edelstein for accepting my request… and wish him luck,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying in the statement, adding that Edelstein would also be part of the top-level security cabinet and deputy chairman of a ministerial body overseeing the response to the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein at a Likud party faction meeting in the Knesset, on April 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The development came as the Health Ministry’s director-general, Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, resigned ahead of the appointment of a new health minister. The incumbent health minister, Yaakov Litzman, is set to receive the housing portfolio.

Edelstein held the position of Knesset speaker from 2013 until late March, when he defied a High Court of Justice order to put the post up for a vote, shuttered parliament, and resigned. The post was then taken up by Blue and White’s Benny Gantz, with Netanyahu’s support, kicking off talks that resulted in a three-year coalition deal with a rotation of the premiership.

As part of the coalition agreement, Blue and White demanded Edelstein not be given the position of speaker again. Edelstein had previously requested that Blue and White lift its veto, telling Netanyahu he wants to return as Knesset speaker.

Blue and White had been negotiating for the health portfolio, and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett — who appears to be headed for the opposition — had also expressed interest.

The announcement came after the premier was set to meet additional top members of his Likud party to determine their positions in the emerging government.

Netanyahu was set later Tuesday to meet with Likud’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz, Justice Minister Amir Ohana and Culture Minister Miri Regev, whose current posts will all go to the Blue and White-led bloc in the new government.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz attends a Likud party rally, ahead of the general elections, in the northern Israeli town of Safed, February 24, 2020. (David Cohen/FLASH90)

Katz is set to become finance minister, according to a Finance Ministry statement Monday on the resignation of its director general Shai Babad. The statement said Babad had informed “Finance Minister-designate Israel Katz” of his intention to step down.

Netanyahu on Monday announced that Likud’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan would be appointed as Israel’s ambassador both to the United Nations and to the United States, as the premier works to divvy up the ministerial portfolios designated for his right-wing religious bloc in the next government.

With Erdan’s decision to serve as ambassador, Netanyahu can appoint another Likud lawmaker to a top ministerial position, as senior party members tussle for the reduced number of ministries Likud will have in the next government.

The Walla website, citing estimations by an unnamed Likud source, said Tuesday that Regev would likely become transportation minister, Ohana would be tapped as public security minister, Yariv Levin would become Knesset speaker, and Yoav Gallant would be intelligence minister.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz and Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin will likely keep their current posts, the report said.

“At this stage we’re not addressing reports in the media about the distribution of one or another [ministerial] portfolios,” Likud said in a statement commenting on the reports.

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, who is interim Knesset speaker, speaks in the plenum hall of the Knesset on February 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meanwhile, the Haaretz daily reported Tuesday that Blue and White chairman Gantz was considering remaining Knesset speaker until the swearing-in of the new government over concerns his coalition deal with Likud could collapse.

Under the coalition agreement inked between Likud and Blue and White, Gantz is supposed to resign as Knesset speaker 48 hours before the swearing-in of the government, which is scheduled for Thursday at 1 p.m.

According to Haaretz, Gantz was also weighing holding off on resigning the speakership over concerns the swearing-in of the government could be delayed and because it could be used as leverage with Netanyahu, as the speaker has control over the Knesset plenum’s agenda.

The resignation of a speaker doesn’t come into effect until 48 hours after it is submitted and under the Knesset’s Rules of Procedure, the speaker can’t be a minister.

To get around this, Blue and White was reportedly looking into adopting a legal stance that Gantz’s tenure as speaker will automatically end when he is sworn in as defense minister in the new government.

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