Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering reshuffling the cabinet of his interim government as he gears up for September elections, Channel 13 news reported Saturday.
The report said Netanyahu was considering firing Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, whose political futures are currently up in the air, and to replace them with members of his own party for the coming months.
Bennett and Shaked’s New Right party failed to clear the electoral threshold in April 9 election, and they are no longer members of the Knesset, but remain part of the cabinet for the time being.
Netanyahu and his advisers have discussed appointing Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin as Immigration and Absorption Minister to help Likud in its outreach efforts to Russian-speaking Israelis during the September election campaign, it added.
As a native Russian speaker and immigrant from the former Soviet Union, Likud believes that Elkin can help draw away votes from Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party, the traditional home of Russian-speaking immigrants.
Netanyahu is reportedly hoping to punish Liberman and even deprive him of the necessary number of votes to enter parliament in retribution for the latter’s refusal to enter the coalition under the terms on offer — which caused Netanyahu to fail to build a government this week.
Current immigration minister, Yoav Gallant, would be appointed to a different ministerial portfolio, the report said. Gallant, who was appointed minister after defecting to Likud from Kulanu ahead of the April elections, would likely be given a promotion to a more senior ministerial post.
The Knesset on Wednesday night voted to disband itself and called new elections for September 17, after Netanyahu failed to broker a compromise between Yisrael Beytenu and ultra-Orthodox parties.
After the Knesset dissolved, Netanyahu wasted no time launching a diatribe against Liberman, branding him a “leftist” and accusing him of scuttling the negotiations due to a personal vendetta against him.
Re-launching his election campaign the following day, Netanyahu told reporters Liberman was “a serial saboteur of right-wing governments” and asserted that in the wake of Liberman’s refusal to join, his right-wing nationalist party was “bleeding support.” In a direct appeal to Yisrael Beytenu voters, Netanyahu urged them to respond to Liberman’s “tricks” by voting for Likud instead.
Liberman meanwhile has accused Netanyahu of relentless “surrender” to Israel’s ultra-Orthodox politicians, and blamed him for the unpopular decision to hold a second national election in a single year.
Initial polls have suggested Liberman may emerge from the coalition standoff with Netanyahu in a stronger position, and increase his party’s five Knesset seats to 8 or 9 in the September election. The polls published on Thursday night also predicted Netanyahu’s Likud staying in the lead with 35 or 36 seats in the Knesset.
Israel’s political map is likely to change in the weeks ahead of the September election, with media reports suggesting that Shaked is considering rejoining Likud, Labor mulling a new leader and possibly merging with Meretz or Blue and White, and the Arab parties running on a joint list.
It is not clear if and on what platform Bennett will run.