In at least one thing, the new government has been successful. It stole my original title for this op-ed, "The April Fools' government," by completing its formation seven minutes before midnight on March 31, so as not to go into April 1. But who needs the fools' holiday when there is a perfect definition for the new government: Too many chiefs, no Indians.
Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu will turn 60 in October, the peak of maturity. During his decade out of the Prime Minister's Office he no doubt ruminated every night over why he had failed and how he would make his comeback, avoiding all his old mistakes. More mature, more responsible, without provoking resentment.
After his first failure his father, Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, said that Bibi was more suited to be foreign minister than prime minister. In an interview in today's issue of the mass-circulation daily Maariv, Netanyahu Sr. says his son's "shortcoming is that he sometimes doesn't manage to choose the right person for the job. He often doesn't see the shortcomings until it is too late to untangle the knot." And this is exactly what is happening to him now.
Beyond ideology, prime ministers are judged by their conduct. When members of his cosseting entourage from a decade ago, billionaire supporters from Ron Lauder to Arnon Milchan and Sheldon Adelson, are seen at the swearing-in ceremony rejoicing like witnesses under a bridal canopy, it is obvious that he hasn't really changed. In any case, he will not lack for Cohiba cigars, assuming that Sara lets him to smoke in the house.
The Bibi who is returning to power brings to mind Yitzhak Rabin's outburst on the stage of Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium when he thought Shimon Peres was upstaging him during his second attempt to regain the Prime Minister's Office. Of Likud's 27 MKs, only six did not receive a ministerial or deputy ministerial appointment. If, at the cabinet meetings attended by the heads of the Mossad and the Shin Bet security service, each cabinet minister speaks for just 10 minutes, every such session will turn into a long day's tedious journey of blather into the night.
Even in the most generous assessment, Bibi has put his left foot forward in his first step as prime minister. His appointment of Yuval Steinitz, who has a Ph.D. in philosophy from The University of Haifa, to the critically important post of finance minister, has had a few incarnations. At first Netanyahu sought to give Steinitz the position of minister in the Finance Ministry. Steinitz, the greatest Bibi loyalist over the years, was hurt. Next, Netanyahu gave Steinitz the full title, but not at full performance. Bibi declared himself prime minister and minister of economic strategy. There is no such animal in politics. Either he's both prime minister and finance minister, the way one can be both prime minister and defense minister, or he appoints a first-class professional to be finance minister.
To heighten his control Netanyahu has appointed, in the words of Tzipi Livni, ministers of nothing and deputy ministers of naught. He has also bestowed upon two slighted ministers - Moshe Ya'alon and Silvan Shalom - the title of vice prime minister. What does this mean, that they must be addressed as Your Excellency?
To retain power, Bibi has from the outset surrendered to power bases - Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas - and sold them the goods for a pittance. The appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister constitutes a challenge to the United States, the European Union and our neighbors. Lieberman has not held back: On his first day on the job he already declared that the principles of the Annapolis process are not binding on us and that peace will not be achieved through concessions.
In this he is in complete accord with Netanyahu, who in his inauguration speech said that Israel does not want to control the Palestinians, but rather aspires to "full peace with the entire Arab and Muslim world." Only a fool would fail to notice the sleight of hand, or tongue, in this when the first condition for making peace with "the entire Arab world" must be recognizing and implementing the principle of two states for two peoples.
Bibi is as susceptible to pressure as ever, having bought the support of Lieberman and Shas at inflated prices. In addition to the foreign affairs portfolio, he gave Lieberman, who faces possible indictment, control of most of the country's law enforcement and justice agencies. With the same munificence, or under the same pressure, he gave Shas control of state lands as well as planning and construction, and has compensated several Likud ministers with bizarre positions such as improvement of government services minister.
Shalom, who not too long ago was convinced that he was pulling the strings and was indispensable, called Milchan in to help him at least get a place at the cabinet table in the Knesset at Bibi's right hand.
The Labor Party, which is tattered and torn and supposedly the peace party, is a minority in an extreme right-wing government that is liable one day, in its threats to Iran, to cause Israel itself to be attacked by Iran with long-range missiles to deter Israel's threats. And at this time a wise man would advise Netanyahu to threaten less on his first visit to the White House, and to listen well to what President Barack Obama has to say. Bibi has got to know there's no such thing as a second comeback.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now