Netanyahu said weighing rotation for foreign minister as Likud MKs vie for top jobs

PM -designate reportedly considering two-year terms each for ex-envoy Dermer and a Likud loyalist in top diplomat post; Miri Regev to head Education Ministry

File: Ron Dermer, Israeli ambassador to the United States, walks through the Capitol in Washington, Sept. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
File: Ron Dermer, Israeli ambassador to the United States, walks through the Capitol in Washington, Sept. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu is said to be weighing a rotation at the Foreign Ministry between a Likud party loyalist and Ron Dermer, a close confidant and a former Israeli ambassador to the US, as the expected incoming premier continues to try to cobble together a governing coalition while balancing between his far-right and ultra-Orthodox partners and senior Likud party members for top jobs.

Channel 12 reported Friday that Netanyahu was considering appointing a senior member of the Likud — possibly Israel Katz, though Amir Ohana has also been floated as an option — for the first two years of an expected four-year term as foreign minister, followed by Dermer for the next two years.

Meanwhile, senior MK Miri Regev is possibly headed to the Education Ministry, according to the same report, with an extra gig as head of the Ministerial Committee for Symbols and Ceremonies, a position she previously held and reportedly requested again.

At the same time, Netanyahu has reportedly been considering offering senior ministerial roles to MKs who have either made moves against his leadership recently or have been perceived as doing so, to neutralize the threat within the party’s ranks.

These include Likud MKs David (Dudi) Amsalem, David Bitan, Yuli Edelstein and Katz.

According to a Ynet report on Thursday, Amsalem is a leading candidate for the position of Knesset speaker.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement before entering a courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020, for the start of his corruption trial. Among those alongside him from left are Likud MKs and ministers Gadi Yevarkan, Amir Ohana, Miri Regev, Nir Barkat, Israel Katz, Tzachi Hanegbi, Yoav Gallant and David Amsalem. (Yonathan Sindel/Pool/AFP)

Amsalem rose to prominence in the Likud on the back of his fierce loyalty to Netanyahu and was one of the loudest voices questioning the motivation behind the corruption charges leveled at the former prime minister.

He has frequently called to overhaul the judicial system and clashed publicly with Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut, accusing her and the court of discriminating against Jews of Middle Eastern origin.

MK David Amsalem at the Federation of Local Authorities conference in Tel Aviv, December 8, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Known as a firebrand with a brash style, who has frequently engaged in heckling from his Knesset seat and confrontational oratory from the podium, he would be an unorthodox choice for Speaker of the House, a post that combines running the parliament — ensuring a dignified debate and upholding the Knesset laws — representing it overseas, and filling in for the president when he is unavailable.

Other senior Likud MKs being considered for the position include Ohana, Yoav Kisch, Danny Danon and Ofir Akunis, according to the Ynet report.

Netanyahu is also reportedly considering Likud MK Yariv Levin as justice minister and Likud MK Yoav Gallant as defense minister.

Netanyahu’s 28-day mandate to assemble a government expires at midnight on Sunday night. On Thursday, Netanyahu formally asked President Isaac Herzog for the maximum extension of two weeks to finish forming a government, saying that the complexity of cobbling together a coalition required extra time. The request was partially granted Friday, when Herzog gave him 10 more days.

President Isaac Herzog, right, grants Likud party chairman MK Benjamin Netanyahu the mandate to form a new government, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on November 13, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Netanyahu has faced criticism from several senior lawmakers within his party in recent weeks for handing over a number of key cabinet portfolios to other parties in his bloc rather than keeping them within the faction. Additionally, the potential appointment of Dermer as foreign minister has been contested by Likud members.

The Likud has coalition agreements with Otzma Yehudit that will see extremist lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir appointed national security minister with an expanded portfolio that covers the national police force and the Border Police’s West Bank division; Religious Zionism far-right leader Bezalel Smotrich set to become finance minister, empowered with far-reaching powers over civil policy in the West Bank; and Avi Maoz, of the homophobic Noam party, handed oversight over many educational programs.

Earlier this week, the Likud agreed to name Shas’s former longtime party’s chairman Aryeh Deri the next interior minister and health minister. After roughly two years, Deri will then replace Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich as finance minister. The Shas chairman will also be named deputy prime minister. It will likely be up to Deri — and possibly Netanyahu — to determine which members of his party will receive the various government postings in the coming days.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Shas chief Aryeh Deri at the swearing-in ceremony of the 25th Knesset, at the parliament building in Jerusalem, November 15, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Before Deri can return to the cabinet, however, the Knesset will have to pass legislation allowing lawmakers handed jail sentences from becoming ministers.

Deri was handed a suspended sentence after being convicted of tax offenses earlier this year — his second conviction — and the existing law does not differentiate between a suspended sentence and time served. Shas and parties in Israel’s likely next government have pushed for passing legislation off the bat that would allow the Knesset to override Supreme Court decisions, including in order to allow Deri to return to a government office.

In addition to the positions for Deri, Likud agreed to hand Shas control over the Religious Services and Welfare ministries, and two members of the 11-MK party will also be named deputy ministers in the Education and Interior ministries.

The deal with Shas came a day after a similar agreement with UTJ which handed the second ultra-Orthodox party control of the Construction and Housing Ministry, which will be led by faction chief Yitzchak Goldknopf, and the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee, which will be handed to MK Moshe Gafni.

UTJ will also control the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry, receive several deputy minister positions and control a handful of other Knesset committees.

The agreements leave around a dozen portfolios left for Netanyahu to offer his fellow Likud lawmakers, including foreign affairs, defense, justice, education, transportation, economy, culture and Knesset speaker. The prime minister-designate began meetings on the matter on Wednesday.

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