Netanyahu fires minister by order of Israel’s highest court, confidant says

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By DanWilliams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will sack coalition partner Aryeh Deri from the cabinet on Sunday following a Supreme Court order for his removal due to his criminal record, a confidant of the minister said.

However, Deri, who was appointed interior and health minister on Dec. 29, will keep his ultra-Orthodox Jewish party Shas in the Israeli coalition government, confidant Barak Seri, a former spokesman for the minister, told Army Radio.

Last week’s Supreme Court ruling against Deri’s nomination, given his 2022 conviction for tax fraud, sparked a stormy debate in Israel – accompanied by nationwide protests – over government-proposed judicial restrictions.

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The less-than-month-old religious-nationalist alliance cracked elsewhere when a far-right partner planned to boycott its weekly cabinet meeting over a dispute over Jewish settlement policies in the occupied West Bank.

Seri said Deri would make one last appearance as interior and health minister at the cabinet meeting, after which he would be formally dismissed by Netanyahu.

“He will remain in a position of influence and maintain undisputed control over Shas,” Seri told Army Radio that he discussed the matter with Deri on Saturday night.

Netanyahu and Deri have not publicly spelled out their plans following Wednesday’s ruling, which members of the prime minister’s conservative Likud party had lamented and vowed to reinstate. Netanyahu spokesmen did not comment on the matter on Sunday.

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Separately, ministers from the ultra-nationalist Religious Zionist party said they would not attend the cabinet meeting in protest of Israel’s demolition on Friday of a small settler outpost built without government approval.

Religious Zionist leader Bezalel Smotrich, who has some cabinet responsibilities for the West Bank settlements, had sought a postponement of the demolitions to allow further discussions, but was pushed aside by Likud Defense Secretary Yoav Galant.

“This (settlements) is a capstone for our participation in the government,” National Missions Minister Ori Strock of Religious Zionism told Israel’s Kan radio. She declined to elaborate on what steps the party might take next.

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In solidarity with religious Zionism, the far-right Jewish Power coalition party said it would demand that Israel carry out a long-delayed evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin Palestinian encampment in a key West Bank area near Jerusalem.

World powers have urged Israel not to destroy Khan al-Ahmar as they worry about another possible blow to efforts to negotiate with Israel on the creation of a Palestinian state. Most countries consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)