Gallant to be education minister, Sa'ar gets no portfolio

Netanyahu doles out final posts, with government set to be sworn in

Ceremony was pushed off from Thursday after mini-rebellion by disappointed Likud MKs; Gantz said to set up ‘alternate prime minister’s office’ at PMO

MK Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, head of Likud, sign their unity government agreement on April 20, 2020. (GPO)
MK Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, head of Likud, sign their unity government agreement on April 20, 2020. (GPO)

Israel’s 35th government was set to be sworn in on Sunday at 1 p.m., barring any additional delays, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struggled to allot the last of the available ministerial posts to a crowd of angry members of his Likud party, some of whom were to end up short.

Netanyahu said Sunday morning that Yoav Gallant, a former army general who currently serves as housing minister, will get the education portfolio in the new government. He will also be part of the top-level security cabinet.

Gideon Sa’ar, Netanyahu’s internal rival, fifth on the party’s slate and the only MK to publicly challenge the premier in the last Likud leadership primaries in December, will not be a minister. “It is a great honor to serve the people and State of Israel as a Knesset member,” he tweeted.

Netanyahu informed Likud MK Yuval Steinitz that he will continue his role as energy minister in the new government, although many of his former areas of authority have been stripped away to form a new Water Resources Ministry.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ze’ev Elkin, the outgoing minister of Jerusalem affairs and environmental protection, will serve in newly created positions of higher education minister and water resources minister — the latter of which will take the aforementioned responsibilities that had thus far been under the Energy Ministry.

Elkin will be a member of the security cabinet, will coordinate Israel’s dealings with the International Criminal Court (ICC), and will continue to serve in several roles relate to the country’s immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

In 18 months Elkin will become transportation minister instead of Miri Regev, who will at that point become foreign minister.

On Thursday, hours before the new unity government was scheduled 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 outraged that they had been offered minor positions in the new government or no post at all.

Absorption Minister Yoav Gallant at an event in Tel Aviv for lone soldiers serving in the Israel Defense Forces, January 24, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

As part of the coalition agreement, the Blue and White party and its tiny satellite parties, Labor and Derech Eretz. received half of all government posts, while Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc received the other half, leaving few meaningful posts for Likud.

According to the deal, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz will serve as defense minister and in a newly created post of “alternate prime minister.” In 18 months, in November 2021, he will become prime minister and Netanyahu will be alternate prime minister for an additional 18 months.

Report Saturday and Sunday said Gantz was going to set up a new Alternate Prime Minister’s Office at the Prime Minister’s Office, adding to three offices he would already have at the Defense Ministry, the Knesset (as party chief) and Blue and White headquarters.

According to the Ynet news site and Army Radio, Gantz’s office would be run by his aide Hod Betzer, who is also expected to be Gantz’s chief of staff when he becomes prime minister.

Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz on April 20, 2020, at a Memorial Day ceremony at the Knesset. (Flash90)

Sources close to Gantz confirmed the report, telling the website he would have a “limited team” at the PMO to help him with government work.

“At the Defense Ministry, [Gantz] can’t deal with political or government work and therefore there will be a separate and small team of 3-4 workers that will manage government affairs and his role as alternate prime minister in the Prime Minister’s Office,” the sources said.

The report came amid criticism over the size of the new government and the associated administrative costs.

Under the coalition deal signed last month between Likud and Blue and White, the new government will initially have at least 34 ministers and 16 deputy ministers — divided equally between the Netanyahu- and Gantz-led blocs — before growing to 36 in six months in what would be the largest government in Israel’s history.

But despite the enormous cabinet, Netanyahu has struggled to keep the party’s rank-and-file happy by finding enough positions for both up-and-coming loyalists and more moderate Likud stalwarts who finished with top spots in the party’s primary.

The process has involved appointing some ministers to diplomatic roles abroad and creating new ministries, such as the Community Advancement Ministry created for Gesher’s Orly Levy-Abekasis.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) waves as he is flanked by Likud lawmakers at the party’s post-election event in Tel Aviv, on March 2’nd, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

A new government must be sworn in by midnight on Wednesday before new elections are automatically triggered. Most analysts believe Netanyahu will prove able to weather the crisis and the coalition will be sworn in on time. Gantz has had no problems divvying up his party’s ministerial portfolios.

On Thursday top Likud lawmakers Avi Dichter and Tzachi Hanegbi staged a rare public rebellion, saying they would not attend the planned swearing-in ceremony — before it was pushed off to Sunday — as the premier had not met with them beforehand to discuss their roles.

The only portfolio possibly left to be handed out was a new position of settlement affairs minister, and apart from Dichter and Hanegbi, Tzipi Hotovely and Nir Barkat had also expected to become ministers. A Friday report by Channel 12 said Hotovely was likely to be tapped settlement affairs minister, with Hanegbi possibly replacing her after 18 months.

Netanyahu announced on Twitter Saturday night that outgoing Economy Minister Eli Cohen would become the new intelligence minister.

“The Israeli intelligence apparatus is renowned internationally and has tremendous importance to the country’s security. I’ll work to strengthen and upgrade the intelligence system,” Cohen was quoted saying in a Likud party statement.

Cohen was previously a lawmaker in outgoing Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, which was folded into Likud last year.

Economy Minister Eli Cohen gives a speech at a Likud party rally in Or Yehuda on February 13, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

In addition, outgoing Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, who had reportedly turned down the position of higher education minister last week, said she accepted an appointment to become the new environmental protection minister.

Gamliel confirmed the appointment on Twitter and indicated that she would place climate change as the number one item on her ministry’s agenda. “The climate crisis is one of the most important issues for humanity and it should top our priorities,” she wrote.

Likud sources told The Times of Israel on Thursday that Netanyahu had sought to convince MK Rafi Peretz to accept the new post of minister for settlement affairs after agreeing to bolt Yamina and be appointed as minister of Jerusalem affairs, heritage and national projects.

Peretz flatly rejected that offer and on Friday reached an agreement with Netanyahu to be Jerusalem minister.

The move by the outgoing education minister and former IDF chief rabbi was met with anger among some of his Yamina allies, who were shunted to the opposition after failing to cut a deal with Likud on ministerial portfolios.

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