(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The cabinet will vote Sunday on a “mini-reshuffle” of portfolios inside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, following Tuesday’s vote to advance the next Likud leadership race to February 23, sources close to him said. Netanyahu said he would not deal with the vacancy created by the departure of former interior minister Silvan Shalom until after the Likud vote. But he made an exception for Shas leader Arye Deri, who told him he was ready to replace Shalom and return to the Interior Ministry.
Deri was forced to leave the ministry 22 years ago to defend himself from allegations that led to his conviction for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. In 2000, he was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison, but he was released after 22 months.
Because his crimes were considered to involve moral turpitude, he was barred from holding public office for seven years.
But Deri said this week that in his trial, he was cleared of charges that he took bribes in his role as interior minister. He said his conviction was for a crime unrelated to the ministry.
Netanyahu gave Deri the Economy portfolio when the government was formed, but he stepped down last month in order to enable the passage of a controversial natural gas deal. When Deri quit, Netanyahu vowed to compensate him with a senior portfolio.
The Economy portfolio is likely to go to Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Shalom’s place in the security cabinet to Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin, and the extra place at the cabinet table to coalition chairman Tzachi Hanegbi, who is expected to become communications minister.
Hanegbi faced off Tuesday for the Likud central committee chairmanship against Social Welfare Minister Haim Katz and MKs David Amsalem and Yaron Mazuz. Results were not available by press time.
More than 80 percent of the 3,572 eligible voters cast ballots in the race, for a total of 2,891 – a massive voter turnout.
At a polling station at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds, Hanegbi vowed that if he won, he intended to make sure the central committee returned to its former strength. Katz expressed confidence that he would win, and Mazuz predicted that he would receive assistance from God. Amsalem said his campaign gained steam over time.
“I have gotten stronger as the campaign has gone on,” Amsalem said after voting in Jerusalem. “Likud members are not stupid.”
Netanyahu voted in Jerusalem for his proposal to advance the primary to February 23. He is likely to run unopposed, but there is a chance he could be challenged by rebellious Likud MK Oren Hazan or by MK Avi Dichter.