Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly working to put together a new ministry for settlement affairs in a gesture to right-wing voters after leaving the national-religious Yamina party out of the new government.
According to a Channel 12 news report Friday, the ministry would have control over the Settlement Division, a World Zionist Organization body that promotes West Bank settlement construction and housing projects in northern and southern Israel. The ministry would also have authority over the National Service Administration, which offers alternate tracks to mandatory military service and is popular among many national-religious women.
It was unclear what the scope of authority and budget of the ministry would be.
Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely, the outgoing diaspora affairs minister and one of the most prominent national-religious politicians in Netanyahu’s party, was likely expected to first receive the post, the report said.
After 18 months, when Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz takes over for Netanyahu as prime minister as part of the coalition agreement, Likud MK Tzachi Hanegbi could replace Hotovely, the network reported.
Likud sources told The Times of Israel on Thursday that Netanyahu 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 the Likud on ministerial portfolios.
Besides potentially mollifying national-religious supporters of Yamina, which was a key part of Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc in the last two election campaigns, the creation of the new ministry would give the premier another ministerial post to offer to Likud lawmakers.
Also Friday, Channel 13 news reported that Likud lawmakers Nir Barkat and Yoav Galant are battling to become education minister, one of the last unfilled senior positions still available.
The network said Netanyahu was intent on finalizing the ministerial appointments by Saturday night, ahead of Sunday’s scheduled swearing in of the government.
The swearing-in ceremony was set to be held Thursday, but was pushed off to allow Netanyahu more time to finish allocating portfolios to Likud lawmakers.
‘A new immigrant stays a new immigrant’
While Netanyahu struggled Thursday to dole out the ministries allocated to his bloc, Gantz finished doing so, with the Haaretz daily reporting that he ultimately forwent two of the 17 ministries that Blue and White and its allies sought due to a lack of lawmakers to fill them.
One of Gantz’s appointments was Blue and White MK Pnina Tamano-Shata as immigration absorption minister, making her the first Ethiopia-born immigrant in Israel’s history to join the government.
In an interview with the Ynet news site on Thursday, Tamano-Shata recalled arriving in Israel barefoot at the age of three and without her mother, who immigrated to the country later.
“There is something very symbolic here, in particular that I’ll be responsible for encouraging immigration to Israel and absorbing [immigrants],” she said. “A new immigrant stays a new immigrant and it doesn’t matter how many years go by. The soul of a new immigrant and immigrating to Israel beats in [my] heart. This is always with me.”
Tamano-Shata first entered the Knesset in 2013 with Yesh Atid, which teamed up with the Israel Resilience and Telem parties to form Blue and White before the first of the three rounds of elections over the past year.
After the latest elections, Yesh Atid and Telem broke off from Blue and White in protest over Gantz’s appointment as Knesset speaker with support from Netanyahu’s bloc as part of coalition talks, with Tamano-Shata leaving Yesh Atid for Blue and White.
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.
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.
Other ministerial appointments include Likud MK Israel Katz as finance minister, Blue and White MK Gabi Ashkenazi as foreign minister, Likud MK Ofir Akunis as minister for regional cooperation, Likud MK Miri Regev as minister of transportation, and Likud MK David Amsalem as minister in charge of liaising between the government and the Knesset. The Likud’s Yariv Levin is set to serve as Knesset speaker.