Netanyahu ally Amsalem appointed minister in charge of liaising with Knesset

After awarding Jerusalem ministry to Yamina defector Peretz, PM finds role for his loyalist ahead of Sunday swearing-in; Akunis to be minister for regional cooperation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) talks with then-coalition chairman MK David Amsalem during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on November 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) talks with then-coalition chairman MK David Amsalem during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on November 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, struggling to dole out a limited number of cabinet posts to disgruntled senior members of his Likud party, on Friday announced that he was appointing his ally MK David Amsalem to the post of minister in charge of liaising between the government and the Knesset.

According to a brief statement by Netanyahu, the role, which was in the past filled by Yariv Levin, will see Amsalem “assist me in safeguarding the stability of the government’s work vis-a-vis the Knesset’s work in this challenging and important period, as he has proven capable of doing in the past, when he served as coalition whip.”

Amsalem, the outgoing communications minister, will also be charged with overseeing the Digital Israel initiative, as well as the Government Information and Communications Technology Authority and the country’s cyber array.

Amsalem had initially been promised the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage but that position was eventually given to Rafi Peretz, who defected from the spurned right-wing Yamina party to join Netanyahu’s coalition.

Meanwhile Likud MK Ofir Akunis, who holds both the Welfare and Science and Technology portfolios in the outgoing government, will be appointed minister for regional cooperation.

Likud MK Ofir Akunis speaks at the Knesset, on May 20, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

On Thursday, hours before Israel’s new unity government was finally set to be sworn in, the event was pushed off to Sunday, after Netanyahu faced a minor mutiny in his own party. Numerous Likud MKs, some of them ministers and veteran lawmakers, were privately, and in some cases publicly, rebelling against the prime minister, furious that they had been offered minor government positions or no post at all.

At least two, Avi Dichter and Tzachi Hanegbi, passed over for ministerial positions, vowed to boycott the swearing-in ceremony. Ex-Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat reportedly rejected a minor ministerial post, as did fellow Likud MK Gila Gamliel.

Amsalem was also reportedly among those deeply disgruntled at not being offered the ministerial posts of their choosing.

The decision meant the ending to Israel’s 500-plus days of political deadlock — which included three inconclusive election cycles and numerous repeated failed attempts to form a government — would have to wait.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waiting for government ministers to join him before a special cabinet meeting for Jerusalem Day in Jerusalem, June 2, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

The two sides have until midnight on Wednesday to swear in the new government before new elections are automatically triggered. Most analysts believe Netanyahu will prove able to weather the crisis, and that the coalition will be sworn in next week.

Both Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, who will serve as alternate prime minister and defense minister for the first 18 months of the soon-to-be formed government, were spending Thursday appointing lawmakers from their respective blocs to ministerial posts.

Under the coalition deal signed last month between Likud and Blue and White, the new government will initially have at least 32 ministers — divided equally between the Netanyahu- and Gantz-led blocs — before swelling to 36 in six months in what would be the largest government in Israel’s history.

Jacob Magid and Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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