JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Sunday he was relinquishing the role of foreign minister and handing it to a right-wing rival from within his Likud party, Israel Katz.

The move comes ahead of April 9 elections and follows court challenges arguing Netanyahu — who is also health and defence minister — has taken on too many governmental portfolios.

A Likud spokesman said Netanyahu intended to appoint Katz as acting foreign minister without providing further details.

Katz is currently transportation and intelligence minister and it was unclear whether he would give those roles up.

He called the appointment a “moving moment”.

Katz holds right-wing views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has said conditions are not in place now for a two-state solution.

In 2017, he advocated a plan that critics said would amount to de facto annexation of a number of Jewish settlements surrounding Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank. The proposal was shelved.

He has spoken of ideas such as building an island off the Gaza Strip to provide the blockaded Palestinian enclave with infrastructure including electricity and clean water.

Katz also promotes a plan for a railway linking Gulf states to the Mediterranean via Israel as part of a bid to normalise relations with Arab countries that currently do not have formal ties with the Jewish state.

Netanyahu’s choice of Katz was seen by a number of analysts as part of political manoeuvring ahead of the April 9 polls.

Katz, 63, is a senior Likud member and wields influence within the party.

He has spoken of his ambition to be prime minister, but has no current plans to challenge Netanyahu.

The foreign minister portfolio is viewed as more prestigious and high-profile than Katz’s current roles.

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2019