Israel’s foreign ministry will pay the price for Netanyahu’s surrender to Lieberman and Likud MKs 20Mar13 March 20, 2013

by Barak Ravid     -    Haaretz    -    19 March 2013

3495245321One of the main victims from the formation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government has been the Foreign Ministry. Israeli diplomacy had never hit the depths to which it has recently sunk. Senior ministry officials are calling the events of recent weeks a “clearance sale.” Others have used stronger language, and talk metaphorically about lynches and abuse of a corpse.

In his surrender to Yisrael Beiteinu leader and former Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman, and in his panic over threats from his fellow Likudniks, Netanyahu has become the Foreign Ministry’s trustee in bankruptcy. At no less a time than when Israel is becoming more and more isolated in the world, and in the face of predictions that international pressures on the country will only intensify, Netanyahu has acceded to Lieberman’s demand that the foreign minister’s position be reserved for him until the criminal breach of trust case against him is concluded.

The case against Lieberman will not end tomorrow or the day after. We’re talking more like six months or even a year in which Israel will not have a full-time foreign minister. If that were not enough, Netanyahu fell into line on another demand from Lieberman by appointing Zeev Elkin as deputy foreign minister, as a result of which he will serve as acting foreign minister.

Elkin is a sharp, smart and able politician, but Netanyahu is well aware that he is not a natural candidate for the position, particularly in Israel’s current diplomatic circumstances. Elkin is also no Lieberman. He won’t lash out on a regular basis against countries around the world, won’t engage in unnecessary provocations and won’t speak out against government policy, as Lieberman did from the rostrum of the United Nations.

On the other hand, like it or not, the fact that Elkin is opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state, supports Israeli annexation of territory in the West Bank and has supported legislation, such as a law targeting left-wing Israeli non-profits that get foreign government funding, that has been seen as a provocation in Europe − all this will foster opposition to him in Western capitals even before he sets foot there on his first official visit.

Netanyahu beat up the Foreign Ministry in an effort to please Knesset members and cabinet ministers. He didn’t want to appoint Hatnuah party leader Tzipi Livni as foreign minister even though she was the best suited for the job, but instead gave her authority to handle the Palestinian issue and diplomatic negotiations.

In a normal country …

Netanyahu initially assigned responsibility for the strategic dialogue with the United States, which overwhelmingly involves putting a halt to Iran’s nuclear designs, to Likud colleague Gilad Erdan as a political consolation prize, even though Erdan has no experience in the field. But several hours later, he took the job away and gave it to former Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.

Now Steinitz, who has been given the baseless title of minister for international relations, will also whittle away at the authority of the Foreign Ministry. The final agreement between Netanyahu and Steinitz says the former finance minister “will represent Israel in the international arena on strategic and diplomatic-security issues as well as before international institutions such as NATO, the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency.” In a normal country, the person who would serve as the representative to those institutions would be the foreign minister.

If all that were not enough, responsibility for Diaspora Jewry has been given to Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett of Habayit Hayehudi, while Energy and Water Resources Minister Silvan Shalom will also have responsibility for regional cooperation. Who knows what that involves?

Ironically, as a result, Elkin won’t be left with too much to do. He will just be in charge of the maintenance of the luxury limousines that take foreign ministers from abroad straight to the Prime Minister’s Office, along with dealing with Israelis who have gotten lost in the jungles of South America, as well as diplomatic visits to the Balkans and Kazakhstan.

One senior Foreign Ministry official sent a particularly cynical email to his colleagues yesterday, in which he wrote: “I woke up this morning and discovered that only the Foreign Ministry didn’t have a minister, and the truth is we apparently don’t need one because our areas of responsibility and expertise have already been redistributed among all kinds of ministers and ministries. But eternal optimist that I am, I insist on seeing the glass as a tenth full, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I must be some kind of holy person because all my work is being done by other people.”

Netanyahu, however, did not stop with the Foreign Ministry. After having managed to convince Tzipi Livni to agree to the appointment of Likud MK Danny Danon as her deputy at the Justice Ministry, he ended up sending Danon to the Defense Ministry as deputy to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon.

A mild threat expressed by Danon on morning radio was enough to make Netanyahu give him a senior position in the most sensitive ministry in the country.

The appointment of Danon as deputy defense minister is an insult to the administration of President Barack Obama, which has worked more than any prior American government on maintaining security and intelligence cooperation with Israel. It would be interesting to know the thoughts of our friends at the Pentagon who remember Danon sitting next to Texas Governor Rick Perry at a sleepy news conference in the midst of the U.S. presidential campaign, attacking what the incoming deputy minister said was the absence of leadership at the White House.

Netanyahu has again been totally exposed in succumbing to pressure and in his panic and loss of composure. To spare himself unrest in the Likud central committee, he has decided to engage in trading the assets of the Holy of Holies of the defense establishment and the State of Israel’s diplomatic ties. And all of this for what? To survive one more day as prime minister.


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