With temporary term up, Netanyahu makes Israel Katz official foreign minister

Even with possibility of new elections looming, appointment of top diplomat made permanent; PM gave up portfolio in response to court petition

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Israel Katz attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on February 17, 2019. (Sebastian Scheiner/Pool/AFP)
Israel Katz attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on February 17, 2019. (Sebastian Scheiner/Pool/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu named Israel Katz as permanent foreign minister on Sunday, three months after making him the country’s acting top diplomat after a High Court petition challenged the number of ministerial portfolios held by the Israeli leader.

The appointment formalizes the February decision to put Katz in charge of the Foreign Ministry, which Netanyahu had held since the 2015 elections. It comes hours before the deadline for the prime minister to form a new government and amid efforts to dissolve the Knesset and force new elections if he fails to do so.

Katz nonetheless released a statement in which he expressed his gratitude for the decision and vowed to work alongside Netanyahu to promote Israel’s interests abroad.

“I attribute great importance to the appointment and want to thank Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his trust after serving three months as the acting Foreign Minister,” Katz said in a statement. “I intend to work together with the prime minister and with my colleagues in the government and the Knesset in order to strengthen Israel’s international status and face the important global and regional challenges.”

“As a son of Holocaust survivors, this is a special and an exciting moment for me,” he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (L) attend a ceremony opening the new Harel tunnels on Route 1 near Jerusalem, on January 19, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Katz, who was placed third on the Likud party’s slate ahead of April’s elections, is already the minister of intelligence and transportation. Several other senior Likud members had been vying for the Foreign Ministry post, considered one of the government’s most prestigious.

Netanyahu initially named Katz as acting foreign minister in response to a petition filed at the High Court of Justice over the number of ministerial portfolios he holds. In addition to serving as prime minister, Netanyahu is also Israel’s defense and health minister.

The petition by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel was filed in December, when Netanyahu also held the foreign and immigration and absorption portfolios. Yoav Gallant has since been appointed to head the latter ministry.

Netanyahu initially justified keeping the Foreign Ministry to himself by claiming he was saving the position for then-Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog, in an attempt to entice him into joining the government.

In November, Netanyahu announced he would keep the defense portfolio for himself following Avigdor Liberman’s resignation, saying Israel was in the “midst of a military campaign.”

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