PM appoints Katz finance minister, ‘right man’ to lead Israel out of crisis
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PM appoints Katz finance minister, ‘right man’ to lead Israel out of crisis

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz again submits resignation as interim Knesset speaker ahead of expected swearing-in of government on Sunday

Then-foreign minister Israel Katz at a Likud election campaign stop in Jerusalem, September 16, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Then-foreign minister Israel Katz at a Likud election campaign stop in Jerusalem, September 16, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday announced, as expected, that he will appoint Likud MK Israel Katz as the next finance minister in the incoming government.

“We face many challenges in light of the coronavirus crisis, and I am certain that minister Katz is the right man for the job,” the premier said of the outgoing foreign minister.

“Minister Katz did an excellent job in all his postings, particularly as transportation minister, during which time he was a close partner to opening up [Israel’s] skies, connecting the periphery to the center and bringing Israel leaps forward in transportation and infrastructure. Together we will lead Israel’s economy forward.”

Katz in a statement promised “to lead Israel’s economy professionally, responsibly, safely and with a level head. Together we will emerge from the crisis stronger.”

Also Friday, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, who will serve as alternate prime minister and defense minister for the first 18 months of the soon-to-be formed government, resigned again from his post of Knesset speaker.

Gantz had on Tuesday officially resigned as interim speaker ahead of the expected swearing-in of the new government on Thursday. As a Knesset speaker’s resignation doesn’t take effect for 48 hours and the speaker can’t serve simultaneously as a minister, Gantz had to resign then.

But he pulled the resignation once the swearing-in was delayed to Sunday to allow time for for Netanyahu to finish allocating portfolios to Likud lawmakers.

Earlier Friday, Netanyahu, who has been struggling to mollify his senior party members as he hands out a limited number of cabinet posts, said he would appoint his ally MK David Amsalem to the post of minister in charge of liaising between the government and the Knesset.

According to a brief statement by Netanyahu, the role, which was in the past filled by Yariv Levin, will see Amsalem “assist me in safeguarding the stability of the government’s work vis-à-vis the Knesset’s work in this challenging and important period, as he has proven capable of doing in the past, when he served as coalition whip.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) talks with coalition chairman David Amsalem during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on November 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

Amsalem, the outgoing communications minister, will also be charged with overseeing the Digital Israel initiative, as well as the Government Information and Communications Technology Authority and the country’s National Cyber Array.

Amsalem had initially been promised the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage but that position was eventually given to Rafi Peretz, who defected from the spurned right-wing Yamina party to join Netanyahu’s coalition.

Meanwhile, Likud MK Ofir Akunis, who holds both the Welfare and Science and Technology portfolios in the outgoing government, will be appointed minister for regional cooperation.

On Thursday, hours before Israel’s new unity government was finally set 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 privately, and in some cases publicly, rebelling against the prime minister, furious that they had been offered minor government positions or no post at all.

At least two, Avi Dichter and Tzachi Hanegbi, passed over for ministerial positions, vowed to boycott the swearing-in ceremony. Ex-Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat reportedly rejected a minor ministerial post, as did fellow Likud MK Gila Gamliel.

MK Avi Dichter (Likud) at the Knesset, on April 30, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Amsalem was also reportedly among those deeply disgruntled at not being offered the ministerial posts of their choosing.

The decision meant the ending to Israel’s 500-plus days of political deadlock — which included three inconclusive election cycles and numerous repeated failed attempts to form a government — would have to wait.

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.

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.

Jacob Magid and Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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