PM said set to appoint Peretz, Smotrich as education, transportation ministers

Likud party confirms leaders of Union of Right Wing Parties to meet Netanyahu on Monday, as reports signal the two will also be offered seats on high-level security cabinet

Union of Right-Wing Parties chairman Rafi Peretz (R) and National Union faction chair Bezalel Smotrich at the party's 2019 election campaign launch, March 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Union of Right-Wing Parties chairman Rafi Peretz (R) and National Union faction chair Bezalel Smotrich at the party's 2019 election campaign launch, March 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to appoint the top two lawmakers in the Union of Right-Wing Parties as ministers in his interim cabinet on Monday, Hebrew media reported on Sunday.

Netanyahu will tap URWP leader MK Rafi Peretz as education minister and the second-in-command, MK Bezalel Smotrich, as transportation minister, as well as giving the latter another portfolio during a meeting Monday at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.

According to Channel 13, Netanyahu has also offered Smotrich the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which Gilad Erdan is expected to depart shortly. At the end of last month, Netanyahu officially made Transportation Minister Israel Katz the foreign minister.

In addition, Peretz and Smotrich will both be given seats on the top-level security cabinet, reports said.

The Likud party confirmed in a statement that Peretz and Smotrich would meet with Netanyahu at the PMO on Monday, but did not offer any further details about the nature of the meeting.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on June 2, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Union of Right-Wing Parties is an amalgamation of the right-wing Jewish Home, National Union, and Otzma Yehudit national religious parties, which won five of the 120 Knesset seats in the April elections.

During coalition negotiations last month, which failed to result in the formation of a government, the URWP lobbied aggressively for the justice and education posts, saying that Smotrich’s background in law made him a natural fit for the former position, while Peretz’s decades of work in the field of education made him suitable for the latter job.

But a week and a half ago, Netanyahu tapped Likud loyalist Amir Ohana for the justice post, angering Smotrich.

Smotrich responded to Ohana’s appointment by tweeting at the time that, “Netanyahu wouldn’t treat any of his other partners like he allows himself to treat religious Zionists,” and added that the URWP would “draw [necessary] conclusions” from the prime minister’s snub.

In appointing Ohana justice minister — and asserting that the position would not be an interim one — Netanyahu appeared to signal to URWP that only one of the two portfolios the party had demanded would be available to it after the next election in September, should Likud win. In the wake of Ohana’s installation at the Justice Ministry, Peretz and Smotrich had bickered over who was more deserving of the Education Ministry, but then quickly dropped the spat and pledged unity.

Last Tuesday, Netanyahu met with Peretz and Smotrich to discuss cabinet appointments in his interim government, though no agreement was reached at the time.

Amir Ohana, newly appointed Israeli justice minister, seen during his swearing in ceremony at the Knesset assembly hall in Jerusalem, on June 12, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Apart from the transportation portfolio, Smotrich wanted the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, Channel 13 reported last week, but Netanyahu vetoed the idea for the same reason that he ruled out giving Smotrich the Justice Ministry — because of the lawmaker’s recent remarks that he wants Israel to “return to the days of David,” when it was governed by Jewish law.

Netanyahu reportedly does not want to give Smotrich the Diaspora Affairs Ministry because he is worried his hardline views would provoke tensions with Jewish communities abroad.

Last Thursday, Smotrich declared he is prepared to give up his party position, and with it greatly reduce his chances of becoming a senior minister, for the sake of bringing nationalist parties together on a single slate for the upcoming Knesset elections.

Smotrich urged all parties to the right of the Likud to unite in order to increase the number of seats they can win and better drive nationalist agendas, such as annexing the West Bank.

The various right-wing parties planning to run in the elections in September have been considering overcoming their differences in order to cooperate in the elections to maximize their chances at crossing the electoral threshold.

Netanyahu, who failed to form a majority coalition after April’s elections, dissolved the parliament at the end of May and called a fresh vote for September 17.

Earlier this month, the premier fired the former education minister Naftali Bennett and previous justice minister Ayelet Shaked from their positions. Bennett and Shaked’s New Right party had failed to beat the threshold for entry into the Knesset in the April vote.

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