By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
I didn’t think that I’d ever look back nostalgically at the time when Avigdor Lieberman was Israel’s foreign minister, but I’m already doing it, only a few weeks after he left that office to go into opposition. Recent events warrant it.
For reasons which are still not clear, the foreign ministry portfolio is one of three, in addition to his own, that Netanyahu has kept for himself. However, he did appoint Tzipi Hotoveli as deputy foreign minister and is reported to have told her that she would really be in charge.
Perhaps with that in mind, she called a meeting of the senior ministry officials to tell them something to the effect that, instead of engaging in subtle diplomacy, they should tell the world that God gave us this land – all of it – and we’re going to keep it. This is consistent with her known right-wing religious views. (At least Lieberman left God out of his diplomatic efforts, such as they were.)
Netanyahu obviously didn’t intend to keep his word to Hotoveli. When he unexpectedly fired Nissim Ben Shitrit, the Director General (in Canada he’d be called Deputy Minister) of the foreign ministry, he did so without even consulting her. He’s also said to have carved up the ministry’s work among six other government offices.
The reason for sacking Be Shitrit was to appoint Dore Gold as the new Director General. Gold who, for the last few years, has been in charge of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, a right-leaning think-tank, is a faithful “adviser” to the prime minister.
It’s not uncommon for politicians not to choose people who know the field and can offer honest and unbiased advice, but those whose opinions are consistent with the politician’s needs and prejudices. Gold is said to qualify.
His appointment also completes the circle of advisers around Netanyahu: all American-born, kippa-wearing men. They’re bound to confirm and fuel the apparent commitment to the United States Republican party by Israel’s prime minister.
I heard an opposition member of the Knesset say that Netanyahu has no strategy, only tactics. That has been very much in evidence the way he has carved up the various ministries to satisfy his key party members and annoy those who count for less. It’s also reflected in the glimpses of foreign policy that we’re witnessing. Israelis call it zigzag.
While he’s still getting over his proclamation against a Palestinian state in the closing hours before the election last March, he has just told the foreign minister of the European Union that he’s now prepared to discuss borders with the Palestinians. That has provoked the ire of at least one ultra-right wing member of his cabinet; in view of Ms. Hotoveli’s outlook, it’s not likely to please her either.
(That doesn’t mean that the chairman of the Palestinian Authority will respond in kind. The game on both sides is to blame the other for not wanting to negotiate.)
In view of these and many other inconsistencies that have already emerged, it seems possible to discern a strategy in the midst of all the tactics: Mr. Netanyahu’s determination to stay in office whatever the cost to the country and however dysfunctional his government may be.
In this he may succeed, at least for a while, because nobody in Israel seems to want another general election. How long that will last is difficult to predict.