(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will continue to hold five cabinet portfolios for another seven weeks due to his desire to maintain order in his Likud party, two MKs who spoke to him this week said on Wednesday.
In addition to being prime minister, Netanyahu is minister of foreign affairs, the economy, interior, communications, and regional cooperation.
The MKs, who are expecting promotions to posts that will be vacated once the portfolios are full, said Netanyahu told them he would only begin allocating jobs after the February 23 Likud leadership race. The prime minister did not want to risk alienating anyone ahead of the election, they said.
Critics of Netanyahu in the Likud faction said it was odd that the prime minister was taking such precautions, considering that he is expected to run unopposed. Perhaps it could make sense for him to delay the appointments until after the deadline for entering the race, which is Sunday at noon, they said.
The most likely scenario is that Shas chairman Arye Deri will become interior minister, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin will be promoted to economy minister, and coalition chairman Tzachi Hanegbi will join the cabinet as minister of tourism.
Netanyahu will select a replacement for Hanegbi as Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman from among MKs Bennie Begin and Avi Dichter, and as coalition chairman from among MKs David Bitan, Yoav Kisch and Mickey Zohar.
Bitan said on Wednesday that he was the most fit candidate for the post, because he was ranked highest on the Likud candidates list, his success in reaching a key compromise on how Likud MKs are elected, and his experience as head of the Knesset House Committee and as Rishon Lezion deputy mayor.
In a conversation with Netanyahu this week, Bitan asked to become coalition chairman while remaining the head of the House Committee. Levin held both posts in the previous Knesset. Bitan said that if he gets both jobs, he will give up the deputy minister post he is set to receive in six months according to an agreement he reached with Netanyahu when the government was formed.
“The prime minister needs someone who can serve him and the party well, and I can do that,” he said. “I will accept whatever decision he makes.”