After reshuffling some of the ministerial portfolios on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was keeping the Foreign Affairs portfolio free and hoped to expand the government.
“Our governmental system creates tensions,” Netanyahu said at a two-and-a-half hour briefing with diplomatic reporters. “Overall the government is functioning well, but I am still interested in expanding it.”
Asked whether he was interested in replacing Bayit Yehudi with the Zionist Union, he replied that he wanted to expand the government, not constrict and then expand it.
The premier’s comments came just a few hours after the cabinet approved the minor reshuffle, with Netanyahu retaining the Foreign Affairs, Communications and Regional Cooperation portfolios.
Following speculation in May about the formation of a national unity government with the Zionist Union or a major reshuffle, Netanyahu ultimately made just a few minor moves to fill vacancies in his cabinet.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon received a second portfolio, the Economy Ministry, making him one of the most powerful finance ministers in the state’s history. The ministry’s labor and employment departments will be added to the ministry overseen by Welfare and Social Services Minister Haim Katz, thus reviving the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry.
Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin retained his current portfolio and gained the Environmental Protection Ministry, which Kahlon had overseen since Avi Gabbay, a member of his Kulanu party but not an MK, resigned from the post.
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Netanyahu had sought ways to promote Minister-without- Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi and Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara, but this came to naught.
Kara had received a promise from the prime minister to be promoted to a minister as late as Saturday night. One possibility is that Hanegbi will become regional cooperation minister and Kara a minister without portfolio.
“My appointment would have made Israel, Netanyahu, and the Likud look good around the world at a time when the prime minister is trying to reach out to minorities,” said Kara, who is Druse. “Netanyahu needs this appointment more than I do.”
At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel complained to Netanyahu that the Likud had too few ministers, according to the distribution of portfolios among the parties in the coalition.
Bennett voted against the appointment of Katz. Gamliel voted against a decision to transfer authority over the Government Advertising Office to Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev.
During the briefing with reporters, Netanyahu touched on negotiations with the US over a new 10-year defense package, deflecting criticism that Israel could have gotten a better package had he negotiated before the Iran nuclear deal was signed last summer.
He said this was not the case, and that Israel would not have received significantly more had the aid negotiations concluded last year.
Acting National Security Council head Yaakov Nagel was scheduled to leave for three days of talks on the matter in the US on Sunday night, but Netanyahu would not discuss the sum being considered.
The deal is widely expected to reach $38 billion over the next decade.
The premier denied a Washington Post
report quoting former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani as saying that Israeli leaders preferred Donald Trump as president over Hillary Clinton, saying he was being scrupulously careful in his meetings with American officials not to get involved in the election.
“I say we are not interfering and will work with whomever wins,” Netanyahu said The prime minister also said he spoke to US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday afternoon. Kerry updated him on his meeting in Paris Saturday afternoon with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu said he speaks to Kerry every few days.
The prime minister, who has come out squarely against a French initiative to hold an international Middle East peace conference at the end of the year, said Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had expressed an interest in moving forward a regional peace process, which Israel favored.
Netanyahu said that countries in the region had a “stake” in the diplomatic process, and that it had a better chance of succeeding if they were involved.
In addition, the prime minister explained Israel’s strategy of seeking alliances around the world – not as a replacement for that with the US, but in addition.
“What we see in the world is that the strong survive; the weak do not survive,” Netanyahu said. “And the strong build alliances.”
Israel was building alliances based on the fact that it is an “intelligence superpower,” as well as a country with technology that others seek, he said.
Netanyahu said that with the entire world facing the problem of terrorism, intelligence was essential, and Israel provides intelligence. The intelligence it has provided other countries prevented a number of attacks around the world, he said, without providing details.
Regarding efforts to build alliances, he confirmed what was reported last week in The Jerusalem Post
, that he intended to make a trip to western Africa in the coming months.
Regarding the brouhaha over the delay in the start of operations by the new public broadcaster – an issue that led to heated debate in the cabinet on Sunday – Netanyahu repeated what he has said in the past: that there is an over-centralization of news in Israel, and that he wants to open up the private television market to viewpoints from across the political spectrum while retaining a public broadcaster that will present all views.
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