Amid False Messages and Broken Loyalty, Netanyahu's Cabinet Gets to Work

Bibi ally Gilad Erdan, whom Likudniks voted in as the party’s No. 2, is about to take his seat as a rank-and-file Knesset member.

Michal Fattal

Of all the ministerial handover ceremonies set for Sunday, the most intriguing is the one at the Interior Ministry. You can only rub your eyes in disbelief. Gilad Erdan will hand the baton over to Silvan Shalom. The next day, Erdan will take his seat as an ordinary Knesset member.

So Netanyahu’s bitter rival is now in the cabinet — the guy who once likened Bibi’s rule over Likud to Syria’s Baath regime, and whose relationship with the prime minister has known more downs than ups in the past 18 months.

Meanwhile, the loyal politician who since he was a kid followed his boss into the desert, in a land sown with land mines, has stepped on a mine. It’s the price of loyalty, and it’s just one of the many wonders of Netanyahu’ fourth government, which begins its journey Sunday with the shame of Thursday night’s swearing-in ceremony still smeared on its face.

The prime minister’s people sent out two messages over the weekend: 1) Don’t worry, Erdan will join the cabinet “within days," and 2) The cabinet will be expanded “within weeks or months.”

And so, to paraphrase a famous remark by Netanyahu, it could be said the first part is wrong and so is the second part. It only suits Erdan to join the government as the foreign minister. Netanyahu, for now, won’t give up that portfolio. The veto by Likud strongman Yisrael Katz against anyone being appointed to the post still stands.

And regarding the expansion: The three potential candidates to join the cabinet — Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman — declared unequivocally over the weekend that they can’t be relied on to join, and that, with all due respect to our new, energetic Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, for the good of the country a full-time foreign minister should be appointed immediately.

All sorts of stories were spread in the past two days about Erdan, by the usual story-spreaders. They said he demanded to be named acting prime minister, the way Ehud Olmert was acting prime minister and took over when Ariel Sharon’s suffered his second stroke in January 2006.

Not true. In fact, during the long coalition talks, Netanyahu repeatedly told Likud MKs that once again there would be no acting, deputy or vice prime ministers. But not only did Shalom manage to obtain the coveted title of vice premier, he was also promised a string of foreign assignments in the absence of a foreign minister.

The most insulting accusation by Netanyahu’s people against Erdan was, “So what if he’s ‘loyal’? Is that any reason to give him a top post?”

But Erdan’s disappointment didn’t stem from his absolute loyalty to Bibi or Sara, who more than once got Erdan to humiliate himself in the country’s TV studios in the fierce and hopeless defense of the Netanyahus. He naively believed that his seniority, No. 2 spot on the Likud ticket and popularity with Likud voters and the general public made him a candidate for a top position.

Instead, Erdan got to learn in the media that control of the World Zionist Organization’s Planning Administration was handed over, with due ceremony, to Moshe Kahlon, and that Erdan had lost his spot on the Judicial Appointments Committee. It’s a good thing we have the media, otherwise he’d have only found out when he went to the Interior Ministry and asked to meet with the head of the Planning Administration.

Maybe the biggest accusation made against Erdan was that he told Netanyahu: “Prime Minister, it doesn’t matter what happened between us, I’ll always vote with the cabinet on critical votes, against no-confidence motions and for the national budget.”

In a normal relationship between a leader and his loyal subordinates, such remarks are appreciated and rewarded. With Netanyahu, the message is just the opposite: Erdan can be left for last and be offered an inferior position, with no money, which must beg to hire thousands of police officers and is about to suffer another across-the-board cut to pay for the other coalition partners’ demands.

And if Erdan refuses, it’s no big deal. He even said so himself.