Photo Credit: Marc Israel Sellem/POOL
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives the weekly cabinet meeting, December 15, 2019.

Netanyahu’s meetings with Likud officials continued through the night between Saturday and Sunday, in an attempt to complete the round of appointments which has delayed and postponed the anticipated inauguration of his new government from Thursday to Sunday.

Knesset Speaker Benny Gantz and Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin on Friday re-submitted their resignations, to allow the inauguration on Sunday, since resignation letters take effect only 48 hours after they are filed with the Knesset management. As of Sunday, Levin will likely serve as Speaker of the Knesset and Gantz will become Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense.

Israeli Minister of Energy and National Infrastructure Yuval Steinitz at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, September 27, 2016. / Marc Israel Sellem / POOL
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Channel 12 reported that Netanyahu intends to oust Yuval Steinitz from the Ministry of Energy, and the veteran minister who has served in all of Netanyahu governments since Bibi’s return to power in 2009, will remain out of government.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection will go to Gila Gamliel, who refused to settle for a lowlier position. She stood up to Netanyahu’s pressure and won, then tweeted humbly: “I thank the Prime Minister for the trust he has given me and the right to serve as a minister for environmental protection. We must promote processes that lead to better prosperity and quality of life. The climate crisis is one of the most important issues for humanity, and we must make it our top priority.”

Finally some hope for those penguins on the crumbling icebergs in Antarctica.

Israel Minister of Senior Citizens Affairs, Gila Gamliel. / Marc Israel Sellem / POOL / Flash 90

Gamliel could do something substantial: clear out the chemical plants and other dangerous factories from around the city of Haifa, which has become the cancer capital of Israel.

It appears that Tzipi Hotovely, who served in the last government as Deputy Foreign Minister and Minister of the Diaspora, is slated for Minister of Settlement Affairs – a function that used to belong to a ministerial committee.

It also appears that Tzachi Hanegbi, the departing Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and Minister of Regional Cooperation, who has served in ministerial positions since Netanyahu’s first government in 1996, will remain without a portfolio this time around. Hanegbi’s sin, for which he is being punished, was that he did not throw himself on the barbwire fence for Netanyahu when he served as temporary Communications Minister, and revealed incriminating information about Netanyahu’s man in the ministry, Shlomo Filber, which resulted in one of the three criminal indictments against Netanyahu for his dubious relationship with Shaul Elovitch, who owns controlling the shares in Israel’s telecommunications giant Bezeq.

Newly appointed Israeli Minister of Economy and Industry Eli Cohen (L), with Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon, at a ceremony welcoming Cohen at the ministry. / Hadas Parush / Flash 90

In addition, the Prime Minister announced his decision to appoint Economy Minister Eli Cohen to the post of Intelligence Minister. Cohen is the last vestige of the Kulanu party which left Likud in 2015, scored ten seats, almost ruined Israel’s real estate market and disappeared with its chief, Moshe Kahlon, concealing a huge deficit he had been accumulating as Finance Minister.

Eli Cohen faced a bit of a scandal in 2019, when it was revealed that he had been using his ministry’s official communications channel to promote… Eli Cohen. On Saturday night, he said, “The Israeli intelligence apparatus is internationally renowned and has huge importance to the nation’s security. I’ll work to strengthen and upgrade the intelligence system.”

Please, find out first if it needs an upgrading.

Amir Peretz (R) with covered binoculars / Effi Sharir of Yedioth Aharonoth, via Wikimedia

Amir Peretz (Labor) will be the new Economy Minister. Orly Levy-Abekasis (Gesher) will head the Ministry for Community Advancement – please don’t ask what it means; it mostly means Orly Levy-Abekasis gets a ministry and it’s an advancement for her, because before she betrayed her leftwing voters in Meretz-Labor-Gesher to join Bibi’s government she didn’t have a ministry.

On Saturday night, Likud senior MKs Gideon Sa’ar, Tzachi Hanegbi and Avi Dichter were invited to the Prime Minister’s Office to discuss their future assignments which, it appears, will not amount to much. Kan 11 quoted people close to Hanegbi who said he left his meeting with the PM angry and disappointed. All three strongly criticized the PM and his choices in the distribution of portfolios.

For one thing, Netanyahu has been ignoring the results of the Likud 2020 primaries, where Sa’ar came in fifth, Dichter 10th and Hanegbi 14th. Traditionally, the primary results are taken into consideration in the PM’s decisions on ministerial appointments. This time, however, Netanyahu’s yardstick was only loyalty: those who praised him got in, those he fears stayed out.

Dichter told his associates: “Such disrespect is not only directed at me, but is a spit in the faces of 130,000 Likud members who chose me in the top ten of the Likud.”

MK Avi Dichter, July 28, 2019. / Kobi Dovraz

Hanegbi tweeted Thursday night: “As of now, I have not yet been invited to a talk on the new government. I suppose I am not needed in the Knesset tonight (meaning he won’t be there to vote for the new government – DI). I won’t deny that my joy about establishing the government, which is so needed in Israel, was mixed with my deep disappointed that the prime minister did not think it appropriate to even invite me to a talk about my place in the new government.”

MK Gideon Sa’ar, considered Netanyahu’s most formidable challenger in the party, urged Netanyahu to call on the Yamina party to join his government: “I urge Prime Minister Netanyahu to take advantage of the postponement of the government’s swearing-in and resume negotiations with Yamina to join the coalition. The gaps are bridgeable and it would be a pity that the closest ideological partner to the Likud would be left out. It is important that the parliamentary bloc of the national camp maintain its unity.”

Of course, this was a clear signal to Yamina from Netanyahu’s main opponent in the Likud: When I’m in charge over here, you will be treated much less humiliatingly.”

Minister of Transport Bezalel Smotrich, who will likely remain with Yamina outside the next government, attacked Netanyahu’s latest appointments, tweeting: “I see the saga of crawling, humiliations and betrayals on Balfour (Netanyahu’s official residence – DI), the abandon, lack of professionalism and effectiveness of the appointments, and the inventions of fake portfolios managing nothing (Including Gantz’s audacity to set up an ‘alternative prime minister’s office,’ and rob the state coffers of tens of millions – sic.), and I thank God that we are not part of this disgrace.”

Of course, with one extra portfolio, a good one, say, Health, Yamina would have happily been rolling on the Balfour floor with the rest of Bibi’s picks.

PM Netanyahu and outgoing Education Minister Rabbi Rafi Peretz signed on the night between Thursday and Friday a coalition agreement to allow the Habayit Hayehudi MK to remain at the Cabinet table as Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage.

Yoav Galant (Likud) will replace Peretz as Education Minister.

IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi during a visit to the Modiin Hesder yeshiva in 2010. Ashkenazi said, “Yeshiva students come to the IDF armed with faith and a strong desire to contribute.” / Yossi Zeliger / FLASH90

The Foreign Minister for the next year and a half will be Gabi Ashkenazi, and then, when Gantz takes Netanyahu’s place after the rotation, Ashkenazi will enter the Ministry of Defense in place of Gantz. At the end of Ashkenazi’s tenure, he is expected to be replaced in the Foreign Ministry by Miri Regev, who will spend the next year and a half as the transport minister.

MK Haim Katz (Likud) is stepping down from his Welfare Minister’s post to head the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, a position he held in the past. So at least he’s not exiled to unfamiliar places. Itzik Shmuli (Labor) will be the new Welfare Minister.

MK Miki Haimovich (Blue&White) will serve as Chairman of the Committee on the Interior and the Environment, which will also deal with issues related to the enforcement of the Cruelty to Animals Act which used to be handled by the Education Committee. She will also serve as Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, and in 18 months will become Minister of something related to her committee – this language is in the coalition agreement, I kid you not.

MK Eitan Ginzburg (Blue&White), the first openly gay mayor (Ra’anana) has been appointed chairman of the Knesset Committee. MK Zvi Hauser (Derech Eretz) will be chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. MK Ram Shefa (Blue&White) was appointed chairman of the Education, Culture and Sports Committee. MK Yifat Shasha-Biton (Likud) will be chairman of the Coronavirus Committee.

MK Mickey Zohar (Likud) was made chairman of the coalition, in addition to his old job as chairman of the Likud faction in the Knesset, and was promised a future ministerial portfolio.

The new Opposition Leader will be MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid).

MK Yariv Levin (Likud) will run for Knesset Speaker against MK Ahmad Tibi (Joint Arab List). He will win.

The Knesset Plenum / Noam Chen for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism

The inauguration will take place on Sunday—as things stand now, in compliance with the health regulations: The MKs will not gather together in the Knesset plenum, but will be seated in three different levels in the building: the Knesset plenum, the journalists’ gallery and the visitors gallery, which will not be open to visitors.

The government table that was supposed to be expand significantly to allow 36 ministers (who come with 16 deputy ministers) to sit comfortable together while maintaining the legal social distance, will remain the same size for now, and some of the ministers will sit in other designated locations.

There’s much more, of course, so get ready for the official takeoff of Israel’s 35th coalition government and, naturally, stay tuned.

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