(photo credit: OHAD TZVEIGENBERG/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to appoint his confidant, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, as the next Jewish Agency chairman received a boost on Friday, when the incumbent chairman Natan Sharansky said he would welcome the appointment.
Sharansky told The Jerusalem Post that Steinitz is a serious candidate who understands the organized Jewish community and would be welcomed by leaders around the world. He said he was glad Netanyahu proposed such a candidate but stressed that he had nothing against anyone who has been mentioned as a possible chairman before.
Steinitz, who returned on Thursday from a family vacation in Vietnam, has said in the past he ruled out taking the post, but he is now ready to consider the possibility. But he has said that even if he is approved for the post in a vote that could be held as early as February, he would not take up the position until June. He intends to devote the next 10 months to reaching key goals in his ministry.
When the cabinet voted on June 26 to freeze its resolution to create a state-recognized egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall, Steinitz was the only Likud minister to vote against the decision
He has said since then that he did not take into account the possible agency appointment when he voted, and that he opposed the June 26 decision because he believes it was mistaken.
Steinitz’s appointment is expected to come as part of a deal in the Likud in which Netanyahu’s ally, coalition chairman David Bitan, will replace Steinitz in the cabinet. Bitan told reporters at Netanyahu’s pre-Rosh Hashana toast on Wednesday that the prime minister had promised him he would end his Knesset term as a minister.
Bitan’s associates leaked that if Steinitz does not leave the cabinet, another way to bring about a vacancy would be for Netanyahu to appoint Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan as the next ambassador to the United Nations. But Erdan has rejected that post in the past and is not expected to accept such an appointment.
If Bitan joins the cabinet, there will be a battle over the chairmanship of the coalition, a post whose profile has risen considerably under Bitan. Freshman MKs Yoav Kisch, David Amsalem and Mickey Zohar would fight over the job, which might be the only way they could obtain enough name recognition to be elected to the next Knesset.
Others thought in the past to be candidates for the Jewish Agency post have included Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs head Dore Gold, former ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor, Keren Hayesod chairman Eliezer Sandberg and Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel, who was officially chosen as the World Likud’s candidate for the job.