Israel May Put Off Decision on Whether Netanyahu Should Nominate Foreign Minister

As Israel heads for early elections, appointment of FM becomes complicated ■ Petitions have been filed to High Court against Netanyahu holding four portfolios at once

Netanyahu arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office, Jerusalem, December 23, 2018
AFP

The state is considering a bequest to postpone the decision scheduled for Tuesday on whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is required to nominate a foreign minister in an interim government, in light of Israeli coalition heads' decision Monday to go to early elections in April.

The government was required to make the decision in response to petitions that have been filed to the High Court of Justice that opposed Netanyahu's control over multiple portfolios. 

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Apart from acting as prime minister, Netanyahu serves as the country's foreign minister and also holds the defense and health portfolios. 

The nomination of a foreign minister has become a more complicated issue after Israeli coalition heads announced Monday that the Knesset will be dissolved and Israel will go to early elections, slated for April 9. 

The premier made a committment last week that he would present a candidate for the position of foreign minister until the end of January. 

Netanyahu made good on his promise to hand over the immigration and absorption portfolio by giving the position to Tourism Minister Yariv Levin on Sunday.

The prime minister made the move after Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit published an opinion in which he determined that Netanyahu could hold multiple portfolios at once only if the situation is temporary.

In his opinion Mendelblit wrote that "you could say that a temporary judicial situation, that is short, is possibly legally."

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The attorney general was under the impression that Netanyahu would not hold all these positions for a long period, and added that he should be allowed "to have a short period to reorganize the structure of the government, in light of the unexpected resignation of the defense minister and the immigration and absorption minister."

The appointment of ministers in interim governments usually relies on how essential those positions are. In general, the policy for the appointment of officials in such a situation is not clear.

In 2005, High Court judges ruled that "it is adequate for nominations for public positions to be postponed until a new government is set up."

The Justice Ministry has announced that because Netanyahu said he would nominate a foreign minister sometime in January, the attorney general does not have to weigh in on whether Netanyahu can indeed hold four different positions at once.

Nonetheless, Mendelblit might be forced to re-examine his stance if the premier decides not to nominate a different minister or even a temporary replacement while the government transitions into an interim phase.

The attorney general is expected to make his position known in a reply that is set to be published Tuesday to the petitions that were filed by the NGO Movement for Quality Government in Israel and MK Leah Fadida (Zionist Union).

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel stated that it plans to oppose any request by the state to postpone its decision. "It is inconceivable that the government would enter an interim phase 
when one man stands at the helm of multiple government ministries that have such an impact and on the security and foreign relations of the country, and for a period that would last several months."

"The prime minister has several more days before the government is finally dismantled and the Knesset is dissolved, and he ought to use them in order to carefully choose the most suitable people to direct the different government ministries he is currently responsible for," the statement concluded.