ANALYSIS / Netanyahu Doesn't Really Want Lieberman as Foreign Minister

If it depended on Netanyahu, he would appoint someone with a moderate image to the Foreign Ministry.

If the deadline for forming a government were tomorrow, Benjamin Netanyahu would be dragged against his will into the Knesset plenum to present the country a narrow right-wing government. Avigdor Lieberman would be trotted out as foreign minister and Daniel Friedmann as justice minister. Netanyahu does not want either.

If it depended on Netanyahu, he would appoint someone with a moderate image to the Foreign Ministry, maybe Silvan Shalom or Dan Meridor. That's how prime ministers viewed as extremists worked in the past: Menachem Begin with Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Shamir with Moshe Arens and Ariel Sharon with Shimon Peres.

Netanyahu will appoint Lieberman out of necessity, but his Likud cronies have already made the point, loud and clear, that the selection was made out of coalition concerns, and it's Bibi who remains "the decider."

The prime minister-designate is like a groom-in-waiting whose wedding day is set for the middle of next week. The venue has been rented and the catering prepared, but there's a problem - the bride strikes him as unattractive. More precisely, he finds her ugly, even repulsive, and knows she will turn his existence into a living hell.

In the next 24 hours he will make another effort, partly genuine and partly for public relations, to recruit Kadima and Labor chiefs Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak, and meanwhile try to "soften" Lieberman's ministerial demands.

While the head of Netanyahu's negotiating team, Gideon Sa'ar, draws up the new government's policy guidelines, the Likud chief is seeking secondary channels to appeal to Kadima and Labor, even if the odds of these succeeding are slim to none.

It's virtually certain that Lieberman will get the foreign portfolio, Friedmann justice, Shas' Eli Yishai interior and Ariel Atias housing. Add the likely scenario that Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas get four to five economic ministries (and Lieberman's party also the public security portfolio), and there are very few Likudniks left in the cabinet.

If Netanyahu awards the finance post to his own party or chooses a well-known economist from outside politics, and grants new party recruit Moshe Ya'alon the defense portfolio, the outcry in Likud will grow even more shrill.

There remain a handful of dreamers who imagine a triumvirate forming under Bibi's banner - Livni as foreign minister, Barak at defense. They could meet at Netanyahu's home tomorrow or the day after, hammer out the coalition criteria until dawn, then cap the whole thing with a victorious press conference.

But as the days pass, the ranks of the dreamers thins. Reality is banging at the door, and the bride is dressed in black.