Netanyahu tells cabinet he’ll name immigration minister by midnight

Under pressure over his multiple portfolios, PM says he will keep promise to fill key position; Likud’s Tzipi Hotovely considered a front-runner

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd-R) arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on December 23, 2018. (RONEN ZVULUN / AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd-R) arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on December 23, 2018. (RONEN ZVULUN / AFP)

Facing criticism over the numerous ministerial portfolios he currently holds, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet ministers on Sunday that he will fulfill a promise to appoint one of them as immigration minister by the end of day.

“I have to announce the minister of immigration and absorption by 12 a.m., and I will do so,” he told ministers during the weekly cabinet meeting, according to a coalition source. Netanyahu said that a cabinet vote on the appointment would take place by telephone.

Netanyahu, who inherited the ministry from Yisrael Beytenu’s Sofa Landver when her party quit the government in November, is not obliged by law to appoint someone else to the role, but promised his ministers earlier this month that he would do so by Sunday.

He also told them Sunday that he would keep another promise to appoint a foreign minister by next month, after holding that position since the formation of his government in 2015.

On Monday, Knesset members voted to formalize Netanyahu’s appointment as permanent defense minister, a position he took on after Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman resigned, citing Israel’s policy toward Gaza. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference at Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv on November 18, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Despite criticism over his holding several key ministerial portfolios, Netanyahu asserted at the time that Israel was in the middle of a military campaign, which he claimed he was the only person capable of steering the country through.

Jewish Home chair Naftali Bennett, who had initially demanded the role for himself, and party number two Ayelet Shaked reportedly voted against the appointment in the cabinet, but supported the parliamentary vote.

As well as serving as prime minister, Netanyahu is now also the foreign minister, defense minister, health minister, and immigration and absorption minister. He has thus far only served as the temporary immigration minister, an arrangement that can last no longer than three months and cannot be extended.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely attends a ceremony at the Knesset, on November 21, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely, who currently serves as deputy foreign minister, is considered to be a front-runner to take the role, according to coalition sources. But several other Likud and other coalition members are interested in the position.

The Kulanu party has said it believes it should receive the ministry, citing the fact that Jewish Home has three ministers and just eight Knesset seats, while Kulanu has two ministers and 10 seats, the sources added.

A number of senior Likud ministers are also hoping to take the Foreign Ministry, with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Transportation Minister Israel Katz claiming to have already been promised the portfolio by Netanyahu.

In April 2016, the opposition Yesh Atid party submitted a petition to the High Court against the number of portfolios that Netanyahu had reserved for himself at the time: health, regional cooperation, communications and foreign affairs, as well as the premiership.

The court ruled 4-1 that the prime minister could continue holding all four portfolios, but three justices gave the prime minister eight months to reduce the load, saying they might review the situation if he did not, Haaretz reported at the time. The justices said that it was hard to believe that Netanyahu could properly manage so many ministries and that the situation was not appropriate in a democracy.

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