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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) sits next to Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz (L) during a test-run of the new high-speed train between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, near Lod, Israel September 20, 2018.(Photo by: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Benjamin Netanyahu taps Israel Katz as acting foreign minister
By HERB KEINON
02/17/2019
Netanyahu has held the Foreign portfolio since the 2015 election, but the state told the High Court on Thursday that he will relinquish it on Sunday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the appointment of Intelligence and Transportation Minister Israel Katz as acting foreign minister for the remaining days of the current government, giving him the inside track to retaining that senior position if Netanyahu wins the next elections.

Netanyahu has served as foreign minister since the last elections in 2015.

Katz, who is positioning himself as a replacement as head of the Likud and future prime minister in the post-Netanyahu era, came in second in the Likud primaries two weeks ago, putting him third on the Likud list, after Netanyahu and Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein. This appointment makes him the most senior Likud cabinet member in the government.

Since Netanyahu came to power in 2009, that position has been filled either by himself or Avigdor Liberman from Yisrael Beytenu, who served from 2009-2012, and then again from 2013-2015. He resigned in 2012 a day after being indicted on breach of trust charges, and returned to office when he was acquitted.

Since Katz’s appointment is to serve as acting rather than permanent foreign minister, it does not need to be approved by the Knesset, and is only for a three-month period.

Netanyahu’s political advantage in appointing Katz is that the latter is also chairman of the Likud’s secretariat and has a broad power base inside the Likud. Netanyahu has sought allies within the party against a group of MKs headed by former minister Gideon Sa’ar and Labor and Social Services Minister Haim Katz, who is backed by thousands of Israel Aerospace Industries workers who joined the party.

Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, a close Netanyahu ally who, along with Katz, was considered a front-runner for the Foreign Ministry position, responded to the news of Katz’s appointment by telling reporters before the weekly cabinet meeting that he wished him luck.

Foreign Ministry Director-General Yuval Rotem, who held his first meeting with Katz within hours of his appointment, welcomed the announcement, saying that Katz would “lead us to more foreign policy achievements – the entire ministry stands at his service and wishes him success.”

Following that meeting, Katz – who has been a member of the security cabinet for years – tweeted that he was “excited” by the appointment, thankful for the trust that Netanyahu has placed in him, and that he was taking over the post “with a great sense of mission.”

The influence, budget and morale of the Foreign Ministry has steadily declined since it was left without a full-time dedicated minister following the 2015 elections, who would fight for budgets and for a seat around the table where the country’s key foreign policy decisions were being made.

The ministry’s workers committee welcomed the announcement of a full-time minister, saying that it views the appointment as important for the good of the employees.

“The organizational destruction that the Foreign Ministry has gone through over the last few years, as well as the violation of agreements signed with the ministry’s workers, needs to be fixed urgently,” the committee said. “We will sit with the minister and find ways to move forward on different issues on the agenda.”

Netanyahu’s appointment of an acting foreign minister in the waning days of the current government follows a petition to the High Court of Justice by the Movement for Quality Government against the number of portfolios Netanyahu holds. In addition to serving as prime minister and foreign minister, Netanyahu also has been the defense minister since November and the health minister, though Ya’acov Litzman is managing the ministry as an active health minister.

In December, Netanyahu, who at the time also held the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, relieved himself of that position by appointing his ally Yariv Levin to serve as acting immigration and absorption minister. At that time, he said that he would appoint an acting foreign minister in January, but that appointment tarried until the petition to the High Court forced Netanyahu’s hand.

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.
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