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Netanyahu expected to name new foreign minister on Sunday

Announcement by state comes after court petition over number of portfolios held by PM, and 2 months after he said he’d give up post

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint press conference with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on February 5, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint press conference with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on February 5, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to appoint a replacement as foreign minister on Sunday, two months after having said he would give up the portfolio.

The announcement Thursday was made by the state in response to a petition filed at the High Court of Justice over the number of ministerial portfolios held by Netanyahu. In addition to serving as prime minister, Netanyahu is also currently Israel’s defense, foreign and health minister.

The petition by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel was filed in December, when Netanyahu also held the Immigration and Absorption portfolio. Yoav Gallant has since been appointed to head that ministry.

The Movement for Quality Government said it welcomed the apparent plan to appoint a new minister to head Israeli diplomacy, though it noted the move only came under the threat of legal proceedings at the High Court.

“In our opinion, it is inappropriate that the prime minister came to a situation where he held such a large number of important portfolios, among them foreign and defense… we hope this unacceptable situation will not happen again,” it added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd-R) attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on November 18, 2018. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)

There was no immediate indication of who would replace Netanyahu as foreign minister. The premier had told cabinet ministers in December that he would appoint one of them to the post within a month.

Whoever is appointed is likely to serve in the post in a temporary capacity, with elections coming in April.

Netanyahu has served as foreign minister since the formation of his government in 2015, a move that he initially justified by claiming he was keeping the position for then Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog, in an attempt to entice him into joining the government.

Several members of the prime minister’s own party were initially furious that he did not appoint one of them as foreign minister, with senior Likud ministers Gilad Erdan and Israel Katz claiming to have been promised the portfolio by Netanyahu.

In November, Netanyahu announced he would keep the defense portfolio for himself following Avigdor Liberman’s resignation, saying Israel was in the “midst of a military campaign.”

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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