A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Netanyahu's Cabinet Needs an Extra Table

The new Israeli Cabinet has 30 ministers and seven or eight deputy ministers and will need an extra Cabinet table as the old one only seats 27. Ha'aretz, no friend of Likud, in the article just linked to, notes that a Likud deputy in the last Knesset called any Cabinet of more than 18 ministers "a waste of public money."

Ha'aretz also reports with some glee that the Cabinet may not be sworn in until after midnight Israel time, so it could be an April Fool's Cabinet.

The problem was mentioned here earlier. By the time Binyamin Netanyahu had handed out all the portfolios demanded by Avigdor Lieberman, Ehud Barak, and Shas, there wasn't a lot left to go around for his own Likud. Ministries have been subdivided to create new portfolios, and there are several ministers without portfolio. Israel is facing the same economic constraints as the rest of the world, but this is not an austerity Cabinet.

Tzipi Livni's first effort on the floor of the Knesset as Leader of the Opposition is on the case:
"No system of government has ever forced a leader, if he is indeed a leader and not a politician, to buy his rule with such an outrageous price and use taxpayers' money to pay so much for such little support; and all this whilst Israel is facing such a profound financial and social crisis."
On the pro-Netanyahu side of the newspaper fence, The Jerusalem Post is noting that three members of the new Cabinet, Netanyahu himself, Ehud Barak (Defense Minister), and Moshe Ya'alon (former IDF Chief of Staff, now Minister of Strategic Affairs), all are products of the IDF's elite recon force Sayeret Matkal. Barak and Ya'alon both commanded it, as did Netanyahu's late brother Yonathan, killed at Entebbe in 1976.

The prospect of Avigdor Lieberman as Foreign Minister remains hard to contemplate. It will be interesting to see how he handles the job. Diplomacy has never been his strong suit.

Kadima as leader of the opposition will be something new, though; the party was created by Ariel Sharon from parties already in power, and Tzipi Livni won good marks for her role as Foreign Minister and, in the campaign, for coming from behind to eke out one seat more than Likud in the Knesset, though she didn't have the allies to form a government. And unlike Barak, she had the fortitude to insist Kadima would do better in opposition than in a rotational unity government. As leader of the opposition she will have an opportunity to remain on a world and national stage while not being linked to the policies of the new government. She seems to have come out swinging (quote above).

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Looking on the bright side, the Netanyahu cabinet is so disparate and composed of elements that so desperately want to be in the government, that Bibi has maximum flexibility for his maneuvering. It helps that he has no principles other than doing what he needs to do to stay in power. And it helps that Israelis continue to want to have a government on good terms with Washington. The test will be whether the Obama, Clinton, Mitchell team press hard and persistently for Israeli initiatives toward the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors that serve US interests, as well as Israel's long term aspirations to be a demographically and militarily secure and democratic Jewish state in the Middle East. Both sides will use the tools of public diplomacy as well as direct talks. Bibi knows well how to reach out to the American Jewish right wing minority and to Christian Zionists. Assets for the US in Israel include the popular view that American support is necessary, the quality Israeli media, Livni and, perhaps, Barak's own qualms (not his conscience but his self doubts). It remains to be seen which government does the better job of interfering in the domestic politics of the other.