Netanyahu appoints top jobs after resigning ministries


Jerusalem (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday he would appoint three ministers in portfolios he previously held but was forced to resign from following criminal charges.

He named three members of his conservative Likud party to head the welfare, agriculture and diaspora ministries.

Netanyahu was charged in November in three separate corruption cases and subsequently announced he would step down from the three ministerial posts he held besides serving as prime minister.

Israeli law stipulates that ministers facing criminal charges resign, but there is no such provision for the premiership.

Netanyahu had named lawmakers to the vacant posts earlier in January, but his plan was scuppered when the supreme court said a transitional government should "refrain from making changes in its composition".

As a result, the appointments announced Monday go to one deputy minister and two lawmakers who are already cabinet members.

Deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely will take on the diaspora portfolio, a statement from Netanayahu's office said.

And Tzachi Hanegbi, in addition to his duties as regional cooperation minister, will head the agriculture ministry.

Ofir Akunis will take on the welfare ministry in addition to his science portfolio, the statement said.

The prime minister's office did not detail when the appointees would formally start their additional roles.

Israelis will go to the polls on March 2 for the third time in less than a year, after neither Netanyahu nor his centrist rival Benny Gantz managed to form a majority coalition following the September vote.

A statement from Likud's electoral campaign voiced hope the new agriculture minister would "bring back to the Likud farmers who didn't vote for the Likud in the last elections".

But the campaign risks being overshadowed by Netanyahu's legal woes, after the premier requested parliamentary immunity.

On Sunday, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein said lawmakers would meet on January 28 to discuss forming a committee which has the power to examine the premier's request.

Netanyahu protests his innocence and has accused the state prosecution of a witch hunt.