(photo credit: Yaakov Katz)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s associates asked Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin’s aides to convene the Knesset Thursday to approve the appointment of a new home front defense minister in place of Matan Vilna’i (Independence).
Vilna’i will leave Israel August 22 to assume his new post as ambassador to China.
Netanyahu praised Vilna’i’s performance at Sunday’s cabinet meeting and told the ministers he would appoint a replacement for him soon.
“You are leaving a lot of work for your replacement, and I intend to appoint a replacement in a matter of days, because I ascribe great importance to the post and want there to be continuity, and not a disruption, in dealing with this important subject.”
Rivlin said he decided to hold the Knesset session this week because the Muslim holiday Id al-Fitr is next week.
When Kadima was part of the coalition speculation centered on MK Avi Dichter or former minister Tzachi Hanegbi for the post. Hanegbi meanwhile left Kadima for Likud but failed to bring with him the seven MKs he hoped would have justified a cabinet appointment.
Asked whether he was still a candidate for the job, Hanegbi told The Jerusalem Post
he “never was.” He then wrote on Facebook that after receiving many inquiries from reporters, he wanted to make clear to everyone that he would not be a minister.
“I returned to the Likud without any intention of serving in the current government,” Hanegbi wrote. “I believe the right path for me to return to parliamentary and governmental service is to first put myself to the test of earning the public’s trust in the next Knesset election.”
Hanegbi wished good luck to whoever would receive the portfolio.
Sources close to Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Netanyahu’s choice of a replacement for Vilna’i would have to be coordinated with Barak. They said the new minister would not come from the Independence Party.
One possibility discussed in Barak’s circles has been to appoint Minister-without-Portfolio Yossi Peled on a temporary basis. Peled is due to leave the cabinet in October to head Katza, the company that administers the pipeline from Ashkelon to Eilat, but his departure has been repeatedly postponed.
Giving Peled the job temporarily could leave it available if a group of Kadima MKs breaks off from the party when the Knesset returns from its summer recess on October 15.
Israel Radio reported that the main contenders for the portfolio were Minister for Intelligence Agencies Dan Meridor and Minister- without-Portfolio Bennie Begin. But Meridor’s spokesman denied the report and Begin has never wanted to hold a portfolio in this government.
Minister for the Improvement of Government Services Michael Eitan said he also was not interested in the job.
“It’s not for me,” Eitan said. “I do what I do, which is important to the public, and I am satisfied.”