May 8, 2015
Number 05/15 #03
As readers are probably aware, on Wednesday night, incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu succeeded in forming a narrow, one-seat majority coalition, just beating a constitutional deadline by an hour or two, following his March election win. This Update explains the make-up of this new government, what deals were made to get it formed, and its implications both in terms of stability and Israel’s diplomatic stance.
We begin with a general guide from BICOM (the Britain-Israel Communications and Research Centre), listing exactly what parties are in the coalition, who got what ministerial portfolio, and reviewing why the coalition negotiations turned out this way. It goes on to note some domestic implications of the new coalition – likely difficulties in agreeing on any major political reform, likely attempts to undo elements of religious-secular reform put in place by the last government, and a focus on economic reforms led by new Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. Finally, there are sections on implications for the peace process with the Palestinians and for Israeli diplomacy related to the Iranian nuclear issue. For all the essential background everyone needs about this new government, CLICK HERE.
Next up is an opinion piece on the new coalition from Israel-based veteran Australian Jewish leader Isi Leibler. Leibler argues that the narrow coalition is a problem for Israel – but the problematic political system is to blame, not Netanyahu. He urges Netanyahu to broaden the coalition to include the opposition Labor/Zionist camp party, as Netanyahu seems prepared to do, and institute some political reforms. Leibler also criticises some of the likely changes to the religion reforms likely to be brought in by the narrow new coalition. For his views in full, CLICK HERE.
Finally, Herb Keinon, diplomatic correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, explores the news that Netanyahu plans to hold the Foreign Ministry himself for the time being, in a move widely being interpreted as leaving the door open to Labor joining the coalition, with Labor leader Itzhak Herzog then taking the Foreign Ministry job. Keinon notes that Netanyahu has held the portfolio himself in the past for extended periods, so it is workable, and also argues that the departure of the often-undiplomatic Avigdor Leiberman from the post is a positive for Israel. He notes that the deputy foreign minister will be an important role if Netanyahu remains foreign minister (and even if he isn’t), and there is considerable discussion of the possibility that historian and former Ambassador to the US Michael Oren – currently a Knesset member for the Kulanu party – may get the job. For the rest of Keinon’s insights into this important element of the new government, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Some more analysis of the difficulties of the new coalition from Yair Rosenberg of Tablet magazine and Ben Sales of JTA.
- A profile of young and controversial new Israeli Justice Minister Ayalet Shaked from the Jewish Home party.
- Jonathan Toben on the likely White House reaction to the new Israeli government.
- Israeli journalist and blogger Shmuel Rosner regrets the way Israeli society has been breaking down into a collection of groups who consider themselves minorities without a clear majority group, leading to political fragmentation.
- Israeli columnist Sever Plosker explains Netanyahu’s success in the March election in terms of the good Israeli economy.
- Recent AIJAC guest in Australia Pnina Sharvit Baruch discusses the latest UN report on various incidents related to UN schools in last year’s Gaza war.
- A report Hezbollah is recruiting children as young as 8 to begin training for Jihad.
- Lebanese-Canadian blogger Fred Maroun explains why he believes Arabs should try to understand and accept Jewish rights in Israel.
- An account from Israel’s field hospital in Nepal. Plus, Daniel Gordis explains why so many people – inside Israel and out – reacted to Israeli aid to Nepal with cynicism and criticism.
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has informed President Rivlin that he formed a coalition which will have a slender 61 seat majority in the 120 seat Knesset, following a last minute deal with the Jewish Home party.
- The government’s focus will be on domestic socio-economic issues, though Netanyahu will face challenges reconciling the agendas of Likud’s four small coalition partners: the ultra-Orthodox Shas and UTJ parties, the right-wing national religious Jewish Home party, and the secular, centrist Kulanu. Their first challenge will be to pass a budget within 100 days.
- Israel’s foreign policy priority will be the impending nuclear deal with Iran – an issue around which there is a broad consensus.
- On the Palestinian issue, Netanyahu has clarified that he still accepts a two-state solution in principle, but will find himself navigating between international initiatives to break the impasse, and members of his own party and Jewish Home opposed to compromise.
- There is widespread speculation that Netanyahu may yet seek to expand the coalition by including the main opposition Zionist Union party, however opposition leader Isaac Herzog has dismissed the idea and sharply criticised the new government.
What is the makeup of the new government?
- The new government, when it is approved by the Knesset next week, looks set to have a 61 seat majority in Israel’s 120 seat Knesset, based on a coalition deal between five Knesset factions (for a full list of ministers see below):
- The right-wing Likud Party has 30 seats;
- Moshe Kahlon’s centrist, socio-economic-focused Kulanu has 10 seats;
- Naftali Bennett’s national-religious, right-wing, Jewish Home with eight seats;
- Ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism have seven and six seats respectively.
What does the new government mean for Israel?
- This narrow coalition is likely to struggle to unite around significant policy reforms. Prime Minister Netanyahu will face a constant challenge to reconcile conflicting demands from his four small coalition partners, any one of which can collapse the government. The first challenge will be to pass a budget within the legally mandated 100 days, which will be no easy matter. The possibility of the coalition collapsing, or an alternative coalition being formed, will be ever present.
- Likud itself, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has a broadly conservative approach to both diplomatic and economic affairs. It made few specific policy commitments in the election save for a general pledge to reform the system of government.
- Kulanu, the second largest coalition partner, campaigned chiefly on socio-economic issues – pledging to tackle the power of large monopolies and Israel’s housing crisis. Its leader and Israel’s new Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has pledged to learn from what have been described as his predecessor Yair Lapid’s mistakes. Kahlon has won control of ministries and bodies to implement reforms, especially the Housing Ministry.
- Another significant change in the makeup of the new government is the inclusion – after a two year absence – of ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ). Shas have demanded a cancellation of VAT on basic foods, and both parties have sought commitments for more money for ultra-Orthodox institutions and increased child benefits. Also as part of the coalition agreement, UTJ has received chairmanship of the influential Knesset Finance Committee.
- A key point of contention will be attempts by Shas and UTJ to water down legislation passed by the last government on ultra-Orthodox military conscription, including removal of criminal sanctions against ultra-Orthodox draft avoiders. They are likely to be met with opposition from Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett who backed the new law. This is likely to be one of a number of clashes between the ultra-Orthodox parties and the national religious Jewish Home, who are also divided over the character of Jewish religious institutions in the state.
- Jewish Home’s other priority will be opposing compromises to the international community in the Palestinian arena and promoting settlement construction.
- Several Likud and Jewish Home ministers have also expressed interest in legislation to limit the power of the Supreme Court to block legislation, an agenda that has received a boost with the agreement that Jewish Home’s Ayelet Shaked will become Justice Minister. However, Kulanu have refused to commit to such legislation, sowing the seeds of another split. Moreover, efforts to advance the Nationality or “Jewish State” Bill, which was a source of considerable disagreement in Netanyahu’s last cabinet, are likely to be opposed by Kulanu as well as Shas and UTJ.
What about the peace process?
- After his election victory, Prime Minister Netanyahu sought to clarify his position, saying that while he wanted “a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution … circumstances have to change” for that to happen. This followed an interview late in the campaign in which agreed with an interviewer who suggested a Palestinian state would not be formed under his leadership. He will likely continue to highlight the security challenges involved in territorial compromise in the West Bank in the context of great regional instability.
- However, of his coalition partner, only Jewish Home is explicitly committed to opposing the creation of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu’s own Likud Party has a range of views on the two-state solution.
- That said, there seems little chance of final status negotiations resuming with the Palestinian Authority (PA) still locked theoretically to a unity agreement with Hamas, and pursuing attempts internationalise the conflict and isolate Israel, including through the International Criminal Court.
- Facing these Palestinian moves and new attempts expected to bring the issue to the UN Security Council, Netanyahu will find himself navigating between international initiatives to break the impasse and those members of his own party and Jewish Home who are opposed to compromise.
- In the first year of his last two administrations, under US pressure, Netanyahu made concessions to the Palestinians to facilitate a renewal of talks. It remains to be seen if Netanyahu will make any diplomatic moves in the coming year, for example trying to develop ties with pro-Western Arab states, as he suggested in recent speeches.
- In any event the new government will seek to maintain ground level security cooperation with the PA in the West Bank. Indeed, recent measures were taken to reduce tensions, including resuming the transfer of taxes by Israel to the PA, and connecting the new Palestinian city of Rawabi to water.
What about Iran and other pressing national security issues?
- With Netanyahu remaining prime minister and former IDF chief of staff Moshe Yaalon as defence minister, the key decision making positions on national security remain unchanged. Yaalon is widely seen as a pragmatist on the right, as illustrated by his opposition to a wider ground offensive to destroy Hamas during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge.
- The impending nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 powers – an issue which dominated much of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s rhetoric in the election – is likely to be the biggest foreign policy topic on the incoming government’s agenda. However, it is also an issue around which there is broad consensus, with government and opposition parties are likely to support Netanyahu in opposing what he has called a “bad deal”.
- Also of great concern are the increasing efforts of Hezbollah and Iran to establish the capability to attack Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, in part to deter Israel from occasionally bombing convoys of more advanced weaponry being transferred to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
- The standoff with Hamas and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip also remains extremely tense. Meanwhile the presence of Sunni Jihadist groups in both the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights will remain a source of concern, as will the wider threat to the stability of Israel’s neighbours posed by ISIL and its affiliates.
Provisional list of portfolios (ministerial appointments where available according to latest reports)
- Prime Minister: Benjamin Netanyahu (who will also hold the Foreign Minister portfolio)
- Defence Minister: Moshe ‘Bogie’ Yaalon
- Internal Security
- Immigration and Absorption
- Strategic Affairs
- Finance (including Lands Authority): Moshe Kahlon
- Housing: Yoav Galant
- Another deputy minister (TBC)
- Education: Naftali Bennett
- Diaspora Affairs: Naftali Bennett
- Justice: Ayelet Shaked
- Agriculture: Uri Ariel
- Deputy defence minister
- Economy: Aryeh Deri
- Religious Affairs
- Negev and Galil
- Deputy finance minister
United Torah Judaism
- Deputy Health Minister: Yaakov Litzman (not serving in cabinet)
- Deputy Education Minister (TBC)
Netanyahu needs to broaden his coalition
Israel Hayom, Nov. 8
Following weeks of unedifying horse trading, threats and extortions, compounded by personal malice, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has finally cobbled together an untenable coalition with only a one-seat majority, which any single Knesset member in the coalition could bring down. To survive, it must be broadened.
Most Israelis are disappointed that a national unity government could not be formed at a time when we are faced with daunting political and diplomatic challenges, particularly the ongoing tension between Israel and the Obama administration.
Yet there is still considerable speculation that despite emphatic assertions to the contrary both Netanyahu and Isaac Herzog would prefer to serve in a unity government. If this is true, it is possible that at a later stage the coalition will be expanded to incorporate the Zionist Union or, as a last resort, even Yesh Atid.
Excoriating Netanyahu for capitulating to unreasonable demands from minority parties that run counter to the will of the people is fine for populist armchair critics. But the responsibility rests with our dysfunctional political system and those voters who supported the small parties. Were Herzog in Netanyahu’s shoes, having won the largest number of votes and faced with the task of assembling a coalition, he would have behaved in exactly the same manner.
To form a government, Netanyahu was forced to forfeit the best available candidates for certain ministerial positions and even appoint utterly unsuitable ministers. In addition, he was obliged to submit to demands of small one-dimensional parties, adopting policies that Likud and the vast majority of Israelis strongly oppose.
Ironically, despite restricting Netanyahu to a hairline majority, Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman’s calculated decision to undermine Netanyahu and join the opposition will delight most Israelis. Lieberman, who resigned from his position as foreign minister, was the antithesis of what Israel required for that role. Cynically claiming to be motivated to resign by ideological principles was pathetic for Lieberman, who is notorious for his political zigzagging. Besides, aside from having a penchant for coarse statements that may appeal to his constituency but alienate the rest of world — such as his call for disloyal Arab Israelis to be “beheaded” and his public condemnation of the government during wartime — Lieberman was probably Israel’s least successful foreign minister.
Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett and his party were treated shabbily by Netanyahu, who capitulated to Shas at their expense. Nevertheless, had he agreed to Bennett’s demand to be appointed foreign minister, this also would have been disastrous. Bennett is articulate and charismatic but he is on record vowing repeatedly that he would never contemplate a Palestinian state and favoring annexation of the territories. Had he been appointed foreign minister, this would have provided U.S. President Barack Obama with all the ammunition required to orchestrate a massive global anti-Israel campaign.
That he initially spurned the offer of the Education Ministry was regrettable. Education should be Habayit Hayehudi’s paramount concern. Bennett has a vision of Israel and Jewish values beyond the religious arena and understands how to reintroduce Jewish values into the secular education stream without religious coercion. The courage he displayed in his previous political forays suggests that he could be an outstanding education minister and enact major reforms in the system.
The last-minute appointment of Ayelet Shaked to the Justice Ministry was Bennett’s payback for Habayit Hayehudi’s shabby treatment. Although she has no legal background, Shaked is extremely competent and, aside from creating tensions by seeking to reduce the excessive power of the High Court, she will hopefully curtail the control over the rabbinate sought by Shas.
There is considerable disgust with the negative moral implications of appointing Shas leader Aryeh Deri, a convicted felon, as a minister. Fortunately, public outrage and petitions precluded him from obtaining the Interior Ministry, which he coveted (he served as interior minister when he was indicted in 1993). But it still shames us that such a person could be appointed religious services minister as well as economy minister.
In terms of actual policy, the principal complaint against Netanyahu is in relation to issues of state and religion. The retraction of the decision to criminalize and jail ultra-Orthodox men who refuse to enlist in the military by 2017 was commendable, as this type of coercion was an obstacle to progress and, if implemented, would merely have transformed our jails into yeshivot and radicalized ultra-Orthodox opposition to the draft.
However, Netanyahu has capitulated to other ultra-Orthodox demands and effectively totally displaced the Zionist Habayit Hayehudi in the religious and rabbinical arena with the ultra-Orthodox parties. Setting aside the pros and cons of the massive increase in funding to ultra-Orthodox institutions, the abrogation of financial penalties to yeshivot not fulfilling quotas for the draft will only encourage indolence.
The decision that state-sponsored ultra-Orthodox educational institutions are no longer required to incorporate a core curriculum — a crucial element enabling graduates from yeshivot to obtain employment — is also highly retrograde.
Another disastrous move, which will intensify tensions with Diaspora Jews and further alienate all but the ultra-Orthodox Israelis, is the rescission of the legislation enabling Israelis to choose rabbis for marriage, divorce and conversion rather than being assigned a rabbi by their district. This will deny moderate Orthodox rabbinical groups like Tzohar the ability to operate in these areas and prevent municipal chief rabbis from establishing their own conversion courts. These basic religious services will be exclusively controlled by the Chief Rabbinate, which has been hijacked by the most stringent ultra-Orthodox elements.
This centralization of ultra-Orthodox control is unprecedented and imposes the most stringent interpretations in all fields of Jewish law on the entire nation. In the long term, despite an extraordinary revival of Jewish values, especially in Israel, this will bring the rabbinate and religious life into disrepute.
There is also some concern about the economy. It is highly commendable that incoming Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has plans to introduce reforms to benefit the weaker sectors, especially in the housing arena. However, there is a huge difference between reforming the mobile phone industry — at which he was undeniably successful — and revolutionizing a national economy. At the moment, Israel enjoys one of the most stable and enviable economies in the world, but this could change overnight with the implementation of populist policies. Netanyahu will need to work closely alongside him to ensure that overdue internal reforms do not wreak havoc on the overall strong economy.
With such a razor-thin majority, another major disadvantage of the government is that innovation will be severely limited and constructive policies can be vetoed not merely by the absence of the unanimous support of all the small parties but by any individual government Knesset member. As in the past, the absence of cabinet responsibility and Netanyahu’s inability to impose discipline should his ministers act as rulers of independent fiefdoms and maintain their practice of publicly criticizing their own government will likely continue.
In the coming months we will face enormous pressures, not just from the Europeans but from the U.S. administration as well. Once Obama completes his efforts to consummate an agreement with Iran, effectively transforming it into a threshold nuclear power, he is likely to revert all his attention to Israel. All indicators suggest that he intends to implement his threat that if Israel fails to toe his line, the U.S. will withhold its veto at the United Nations.
His clearly stated policy is that Israel’s borders should be based on the (indefensible) 1949 armistice lines with mutual swaps (which could never be achieved with the intransigent Palestinians), division of Jerusalem, and an indefinite freeze of all settlement construction which, in this context, includes settlement blocs and Jewish east Jerusalem.
Needless to say, Israel will not be able to make such concessions and will need to display a united front to ensure that American public opinion and the U.S. Congress prevent Obama from implementing his dangerous initiatives. Much will depend on the opposition. The Zionist Union has acted commendably since the election in relation to the Iranian issue. Hopefully, it will continue to avoid demagoguery and populism and endorse government policies affecting our national interest.
Indeed, most Israelis hope that even if it leads to the defection of a few of its far-left extremist back benchers, the Zionist Union will ultimately become a partner in a national unity government. If it does, one of the government’s most urgent tasks will be to bring about highly overdue electoral reforms to prevent a repetition of the current intolerable situation.
A key ministry without a full-time minister
By HERB KEINON
Jerusalem Post, 07/05/2015
Avigdor Liberman’s decision Monday, at nearly the very last moment, to quit the Foreign Ministry and the coalition negotiations and take his hard-right Yisrael Beytenu party into the opposition caused enormous headaches for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But it also relieved one relatively small pain, but a pain nonetheless: Netanyahu, at least temporarily, will have someone in the Foreign Ministry who actually speaks for him – Netanyahu himself.
Israel awoke Thursday morning, after weeks of coalition haggling and brinkmanship, to a narrow government that will not include a full-time foreign minister. At a time with numerous diplomatic challenges lurching around the corner, Israel will have a dedicated tourism minister, energy and water minister, and culture and sport minister. It will not have a full-time foreign minister.
Rather, its foreign minister will be the prime minister, who obviously has a lot of other things on his plate beyond worrying about – or cultivating – Israel’s ties with Kazakhstan, Angola and Colombia.
This is the third time Netanyahu has worn both hats, having done so for nine months during his first term in 1998, and again from December 2012 to November 2013 when Liberman resigned in order to face corruption charges. During the later period Netanyahu kept the foreign minister’s seat warm, awaiting Liberman’s return – and, indeed, Liberman returned after his acquittal.
Now, too, Netanyahu will only be keeping the seat warm. His campaign spokesman Nir Hefetz told Israel Radio Thursday that Netanyahu was keeping the ministry open for Zionist Union co-leader Isaac Herzog, in the eventuality that Herzog decides to join the government.
That may yet happen, but it may take some time. In the meantime, the ministry will be in Netanyahu’s caretaker hands, which has both pluses and minuses.
The biggest minus is that it leaves the ministry – badly demoralized over the years both because of a never-ending labor dispute, and because it has essentially been sidelined from some of the main diplomatic action – in limbo.
The comptroller’s report published this week highlighted an anomalous situation whereby the ministry is short-handed when it comes to qualified diplomats, and this is a situation that will only be rectified with someone at the top of the pyramid taking charge to shepherd through structural changes. But for that, you need someone devoted at the top who has the time and energy to expend on bureaucratic institutional reorganization. This is not necessarily Netanyahu’s cup of tea, especially not in the role of a caretaker foreign minister.
The ministry is also in need of a full-time minister who will fight for budgets and for influence. Again, Netanyahu – as a temporary fill-in – is unlikely to do that.
One of the most peculiar things Liberman did as foreign minister was to remove the ministry from one of the most burning diplomatic questions: the Palestinian issue.
In July 2009 he essentially disengaged the Foreign Ministry from dealing with the Palestinian track, saying it had heretofore become overly obsessed with that single issue, at the expense of more traditional duties like cultivating ties with South America and Africa. He also said it would be a conflict of interest for someone like him – who lives in the settlement of Nokdim – to deal with the Palestinian issue, which also means the future of the settlements.
“I think that from my standpoint, there is clearly a conflict of interest. Someone who lives in a small, isolated settlement, not even among the settlement blocs, for me to deal with that issue is clearly a conflict of interest, and I would not want them to blame me afterward for intentionally torpedoing important diplomatic negotiations,” he said at the time.
In one fell swoop, therefore, Liberman removed the ministry from the Palestinian channel, which meant also removing it from carrying the ball in the relationship with the US. Then-defense minister Ehud Barak happily moved into the breach.
In addition to not leading the charge with the Palestinians and the Americans, Liberman – because of previous statements he made regarding the Egyptians – was not a major player in managing that extremely important relationship, or in managing the very significant relationship with Jordan.
Day-to-day handling of both those strategic relationships is now firmly in the hands of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Defense Ministry. Netanyahu, as fill-in foreign minister, is unlikely to fight hard for the ministry to come in and claim back some of that very important turf.
As to the pluses of Netanyahu as caretaker foreign minister, the main one is that the Prime Minister’s Office will not have to deny that the foreign minister was speaking for the government, something it awkwardly had to do on numerous occasions during Liberman’s tenure.
More than once did the Prime Minister’s Office issue a disclaimer to comments made by Liberman, saying that his comments reflected his own personal opinion, and not those of the government.
The most glaring example was in 2010, when Liberman addressed the UN and contradicted on the world’s premier stage the policies that his boss had been advocating.
While Netanyahu’s formal position at the time was of being in favor of negotiations leading to a comprehensive two-state solution, Liberman said the focus should be on a “long-term immediate agreement, something that could take a few decades.”
He also used that speech to promote the idea of an “exchange of populated territory,” meaning to redraw the future lines of two states based on demographic realities: Drawing inside Israel the bulk of the settlers, and drawing inside a future Palestinian state much of the Israeli-Arab population. That was not at all in line with Netanyahu’s policies.
With this speech Liberman struck out on his own, using his position to promote his own ideas – not necessarily those of the government.
After that speech, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement saying it was not coordinated with Netanyahu.
This penchant for speaking out as foreign minister compounded a problem already endemic in Israel. While Palestinian Authority officials speak on-message, numerous voices come out of Jerusalem, muddling Israel’s message.
But it is one thing if those speaking off-message are members of the opposition, or a junior minister of another party. It is another thing altogether when the speaker is the foreign minister and a member of the prime minister’s own party, as Liberman was until he ended the Likud Beytenu alliance during last summer’s war in Gaza.
When the foreign minister sings a tune incompatible with that of the prime minister, it inevitably leads people to question what indeed is the government’s policy – a situation that plagued the previous government.
So, for now at least, that confusion will be eliminated because the foreign minister and prime minister will be one and the same man.
Paradoxically, however, one problem with the situation is it means that Netanyahu, who has a complicated and difficult relationship with US President Barack Obama and some European leaders, will not have someone in the Foreign Ministry he can commission with the task of trying to smooth over those relations.
Or, as The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, a caustic Netanyahu critic, quipped on Twitter this week, “Netanyahu will apparently be his own foreign minister. Perhaps he will send himself to Washington to repair the damage caused by Netanyahu.”
IN LIEU OF a full-time foreign minister, the role of deputy foreign minister will now take on added importance, as the deputy foreign minister will be in day-to-day charge of the ministry.
When Liberman absented himself from the ministry in 2013, Ze’ev Elkin became the deputy foreign minister for most of that period. This time, there is speculation that former ambassador to the US and Kulanu MK Michael Oren might fill the bill.
Oren’s relationship with Netanyahu is somewhat of an enigma. It was Netanyahu who plucked the articulate Oren out of academia and sent him to Washington in 2009, where he ably and effectively both managed Netanyahu’s complicated relationship with the White House and represented Israel to the US public.
Then he returned to Israel in 2013, later joining Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu Party. That move obviously reflected a degree of disenchantment by Oren with Netanyahu’s diplomatic policies, but probably also reflected the cold political calculation that it would be much easier getting into the Knesset via the one-manselects- all Kulanu electoral system, then through the rough-and-tumble politics of the Likud.
In a political culture marked by nastiness, it is noteworthy that neither Netanyahu nor Oren has openly or even through anonymous spokespeople disparaged the other.
Indeed, sources close to Netanyahu say he has much respect for Oren’s abilities as a diplomat and the way he performed as ambassador in Washington.
Oren as deputy foreign minister would give Netanyahu something that Liberman, with his track record of “undiplomatic” statements as well as his bulldog, aggressive and outspoken style, was unable to provide: a smiling and “presentable” face to the world.
And with the world expected to begin pressing Israel hard on the Palestinian issue, it could be a significant asset having as deputy foreign minister someone who can not only deftly and diplomatically present the country’s case to the world, but who is also respected by many and not viewed as “extremist” – a label that, unfairly or not, will dog the new government and will be used by the Palestinians to Israel’s detriment.