Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday appointed hard-line politician Naftali Bennett, who heads the New Right party, as defense minister in his caretaker government.
The move appears aimed at shoring up opposition to attempts by Netanyahu’s chief rival, Benny Gantz, to form Israel’s next government.
Ayelet Shaked of Bennett’s party, a former justice minister, confirmed that the party has accepted the defense portfolio for Bennett. The appointment will need the government’s approval and Netanyahu’s Cabinet is to meet on Sunday.
Gantz is in the process of trying to cobble a majority coalition after inconclusive elections in September and after Netanyahu had the first go but failed to put together a government.
But Gantz, who heads the centrist Blue and White party, faces a difficult time securing a parliamentary majority and prospects for an unprecedented third election — perhaps sometime early next year — are growing.
Neither leader has been capable of forming a coalition government with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party, which has refused to endorse either candidate and instead called for a national unity government.
However, unity talks have repeatedly stalled, in part because of Netanyahu’s legal troubles.
The embattled Netanyahu, who until Friday has also held the post of defense minister, is facing possible indictment of corruption charges that threaten his political career. He has demanded that he head a unity government, a position in which he would be poised to battle any criminal charges. Gantz says he can’t sit with a Netanyahu-led Cabinet in which the prime minister faces six serious legal troubles.
“Appointing a ‘temporary placeholder’ to the position of defense minister is unworthy of the most sensitive establishment in the state,” Blue and White said in a statement Friday.
Bennett has in the past called for tougher military action against Gaza militants. He is also an advocate of settlement building in the West Bank.
Israel’s Haaretz daily reported that the New Party will be merging with Netanyahu’s Likud.