MK Ophir Akunis .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Science, Technology and Space Minister Ophir Akunis does not intend to honor a commitment he made when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed his government to quit the cabinet after a year, he said Sunday in closed conversations.
When Netanyahu’s ministers were sworn in last year on May 14, Netanyahu’s office sent the press a message saying that Akunis had been appointed a minister for a year and after that, he would switch places with coalition chairman Tzachi Hanegbi.
After Hanegbi told Channel 2’s Meet the Press program that he would likely replace Akunis as science, technology and space minister, Transportation Minister Israel Katz told Akunis at last Sunday’s cabinet meeting that according to the coalition chairman, his time in the cabinet was limited. Akunis responded that it is the prime minister who makes such decisions, not Hanegbi.
“I am leading reforms and revolutions have not been for years in the Science and Technology Ministry, and there is no reason to remove me,” Akunis said Sunday in closed conversations.
Sources close to Akunis pointed out that since Netanyahu built his cabinet, two ministers have resigned and have not been replaced: Silvan Shalom, who quit over sexual harassment allegations, and Danny Danon, who became ambassador to the United Nations.
“Things have changed,” an Akunis associate said. “There are more portfolios available now than there were when the cabinet was formed. The prime minister doesn’t have to remove Ophir to keep the commitment he made to Tzachi.”
The current portfolios available in Likud are Economy and Communications, which are both held by Netanyahu.
Hanegbi said he was not interested in the former and that if another Likud minister is promoted to the portfolio, he could receive whatever ministry they left behind.
There had been talk that the Economy portfolio could go to Kulanu’s Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay, in return for the party agreeing to the appointment of two Likud ministers.
In such a scenario, Hanegbi could return to the Environmental Protection Ministry, which he headed from 2001 to 2003. Hanegbi said he would have been happy to receive that portfolio, but Kulanu rejected the proposal.
Netanyahu was waiting to appoint ministers until the Supreme Court issued its ruling on a petition by the Movement for Quality Government to prevent Shas leader Arye Deri from serving as interior minister. But the current criminal investigation of Hanegbi could delay that ruling for several months.
Hanegbi has told reporters that he would refuse to continue as coalition chairman when the Knesset returns from its extended Passover recess on May 23.
Asked to respond to Akunis’s refusal to resign for him, Hanegbi said: “Let’s talk on May 14.”