World May Find Israel's New Deputy Foreign Minister Hard to Swallow

In the absence of an acting foreign minister, spotlight will be on Tzipi Hotovely, a hardliner who opposes two-state solution and supports annexation of West Bank.

MK Tzipi Hotovely - Michal Fattal
MK Tzipi Hotovely. Michal Fattal

After a long and strenuous saga of negotiations and delays, Israel's new government was finally sworn in on Thursday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in charge of several ministries - including the Foreign Ministry.

But in the absence of a dedicated, full-time foreign minister (at least until Zionist Union's Isaac Herzog joins the coalition, as some analysts predict), it will fall to Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) to handle what promises to be an "interesting" term: Continued efforts by the Palestinians to internationalize the conflict, including charging Israel in the International Criminal Court, an ongoing drive to boycott Israel and the settlements, and an increasingly tense relationship with the United States.

Hotovely's stances may put her on a collision course with the international community: A hardliner with regards to the Palestinians, Hotovely opposes the two-state solution and is in favor of annexing the West Bank (which she terms Judea and Samaria, using the biblical names for the region).

Hotovely believes that after annexation Israel could initiate a gradual process of granting Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians.

The international community may also find Hotovely's stance on intermarriage hard to swallow: In her capacity as chairwoman of the Status of Women Committee in the Knesset in 2011, she invited the racist group Lehava to explain how they prevent romantic contacts between Jews and Arabs. Responding to criticism, Hotovely said it was "important to examine procedures for preventing mixed marriages, and Lehava members are the right people for that," Walla reported.

As a religious woman, Hotovely generally does not shake hands with men, making meet-and-greets with foreign diplomats problematic. However, she allayed concerns of an impending "shake-gate," telling Yedioth Aharonoth that she intends to act according to the halakha which rules that if a man offers his hand to a woman, it is customary to shake it so as not to insult him. "It's not a problem at all," she said. "When someone meets foreign representatives the Jewish halakha recognizes respect, etiquette and politeness," she said. 

The 36-year-old Hotovely is a relative unknown to the international media, but is a household name in Israel, as both a prominent female member of the mostly male Likud party and as one of Likud's most vocal supporters of the settlements.

This fact did not go unnoticed by Netanyahu, who enlisted Hotovely as his campaign chief in the settlements during the last election campaign, poaching precious votes from his ally-cum-rival Naftali Bennett and his Habayit Hayehudi party.

The deputy foreign minister portfolio is Hotovely's highest cabinet position to date – serving previously as deputy transport minister and deputy science minister.

Hotovely entered the political game at the tender age of 29, running for the Knesset on behalf of Likud and becoming the 18th Knesset youngest member.

Before turning to politics, Hotovely followed a career in law and as a political commentator, writing op-eds for Maariv newspaper and appearing as a regular guest on news panels as the representative of the right wing.