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17 Feb, 2019 23:58

‘Jack of all trades’ Netanyahu quits as foreign minister, retains 3 other posts

‘Jack of all trades’ Netanyahu quits as foreign minister, retains 3 other posts

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has tapped an ally to lead the Foreign Ministry after a petition to the High Court argued it was impossible for him to juggle the posts of PM, health, defense, and foreign minister at the same time.

With less than two months left before the general election, Netanyahu relinquished his duties as foreign minister, which he assumed in 2015, after a petition filed by the Movement for Quality Government (a non-governmental organization) to the High Court questioned his ability to handle the responsibilities arising from his numerous ministerial posts.

The petition was launched in December, when Netanyahu, who has been serving as the Israeli Prime Minister since 2009, still held four ministerial portfolios in addition to being the head of state.

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Facing a potential legal challenge ahead of the crucial election on April 9, Netanyahu stepped down as immigration and absorption minister in December, appointing the minister of tourism, Yariv Levin, to the post.

Netanyahu pledged to step down as foreign minister in January, but was reluctant to deliver. After hesitating for over a month, Netanyahu announced on Thursday he would give up the post by the end of the week.

The Movement for Quality Government welcomed Netanyahu's move to shelve some of his ministerial burden, but said it was long overdue.

"We welcome the apparent appointment that came only under the sword of the Supreme Court, and we hope that it will be implemented," the group said at the time.

It slammed the situation with Netanyahu amassing ministerial powers as "inappropriate," adding that they hope "this unacceptable situation will not happen again."

During a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu appointed Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz (who himself now holds three ministerial posts, including minister of transportation) to be the foreign minister. Netanyahu does not need the Knesset's approval, as Katz can serve as acting minister for up to three months.

Katz has been touted as a rival to Netanyahu's leadership in his right-wing Likud party. The newly-appointed foreign minister came in second in the party's primaries in January, landing the third top spot in Likud's parliamentary list, behind Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.

After his appointment, Katz said he would promote Israeli foreign policy "together with the prime minister," leading it to "further achievements."

"This is an exciting moment for me," Katz tweeted.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu is carrying on with his duties as Israel's acting defense minister and the formal healthcare head.

The Israeli PM took over the defense ministry in November last year after the resignation of his hawkish ally Avigdor Lieberman from the right-wing nationalist party Yisrael Beiteinu. At the time, Netanyahu justified the addition of another portfolio to his already vast collection by saying Israel was in "the midst of a military campaign."

Earlier this month, the Israeli attorney general accused Netanyahu of exploiting his position as acting defense chief to drum up support for himself and his party and barred him from using photos of his trips to IDF bases for election purposes 90 days ahead of the vote.

Netanyahu has also headed the Health Ministry since November 2017, although he is not responsible for day-to-day operations.

Netanyahu has never shied away from taking on extra governmental work, dabbling in various fields during his latest two tenures as prime minister. During his third term (2009-2013), he led the Ministry of Economic Strategy, the Ministry for Senior Citizens (now rebranded as the Ministry for Social Equality), and had a brief stint at the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. Since the beginning of his fourth term, Netanyahu has run the Ministry of Communications (2014-17), the Regional Development Ministry (2015-16) and the Ministry of Economy (2015-16).

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