Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday informed Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked he was "transferring" them from their capacity as government ministers.
Following Israel's election on April 9, the two remained in the government despite their Hayamin Hehadash party failing to pass the electoral threshold. They were supposed to remain in their ministries until a new government would form.
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However, last week Netanyahu failed to form a new coalition, and passed a bill to dissolve the Knesset and head for new elections. Israel will go to the polls on September 17th.
Netanyahu's decision comes two days before the security cabinet convenes.
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Following Netanyahu's announcement, Bennett and Shaked said: "We sincerely thank the Israeli public for the rare privilege we have had to serve in our roles as ministers of education and justice, in order to ensure the well-being of the State of Israel and its citizens and the good of the education and justice ministries, so that the next school year will commence as planned."
"I did my best," Bennett said in a press conference later Sunday evening, assuring Israelis that they are "in good hands" regardless of who replaces him.
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Bennett further said his Hayamin Hehadash party would run again, and that the new elections are an "opportunity to get to it wiser and humbler." The minister refused to say whether he would run again with Shaked, who said she would need a few days to consider her next steps.
As soon as the transfer of the two ministers goes into effect, 48 hours after Netanyahu's announcement, he will assume the roles of acting justice minister and education minister. The prime minister had offered the justice portfolio to Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, but he did not want to serve in the temporary position without being able to implement his own policies.
Another possibility is for Netanyahu is to appoint other Knesset members in their place, which has not yet been ruled out. Israeli law does not prohibit an outgoing prime minister from appointing or dismissing ministers before an election nor does it require Knesset approval if the appointee is already a Knesset member.
Netanyahu’s spokeswoman said in a statement Sunday evening that the prime minister “hasn’t decided yet on appointment of new ministers,” stressing “he has no intention to hold one of the vacant portfolios.”
She also said that Netanyahu “knew in advance” that Levin wasn’t interested in the temporary appointment.
The leaders of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, MKs Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich, were trying to unify the parties to the right of Likud ahead of the upcoming election, but were against allowing Shaked to head a unified Knesset roster.
In response to the firing of Bennett and Shaked, Habayit Hayehudi denied that they sought to have Bennett and Shaked replaced. However, a party member said: "Of course, Rabbi Peretz would happily accept the education portfolio and be a member of the security cabinet as he was supposed to be," referring to promises Netanyahu made during recent coalition talks.
Smotrich, chairman of the National Union, one of the parties which ran jointly under the Union of Right-Wing Parties, addressed Shaked in a Sunday interview on Israel's military radio: “You abandoned [the right], smashed it, divided, made a mistake. As a result the whole right wing is now in a big tailspin, the whole State of Israel is in a tailspin.” Smotrich said such a step could be considered, but he could think of “no reason in the world” why she should head the Knesset roster.
A source in the Union of Right-Wing Parties said that the chances that Bennett and Shaked would run on that party’s ticket were low, among other things because Rafi Peretz did not want to vacate the number one slot he now holds. Peretz, the source said, had come to Habayit Hayehudi as a star, “not to be number five.”
Chaim Levinson contributed to this report.