For Prime Minister's Right-hand Man Eyal Gabai, Resignation of Post Means the Longest of Good-byes

Netanyahu fails to find replacement for key government position in wake of resignation.

The director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Eyal Gabai, officially finished his job on Sunday, three months after tendering his resignation. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not found anyone to take his place yet and so for now Gabai remains in office.

"This is one of the most important positions in government. It cannot be left vacant even one day," a senior government source said.

Eyal Gabai - GPO - 09092011

"The prime minister met a few candidates two months ago but hasn't bothered to tell them if he decided to hire any of them or not," the source said.

Gabai is last of several of Netanyahu's aides who quit long before the end of their term. Spokesmen Yossi Levy, Nir Hefetz and Gidi Shmerling, National Security Adviser Uzi Arad and political adviser Shalom Shlomo are a few of the aides who jumped ship.

Gabai was repeatedly appointed by Netanyahu to head teams and committees set up to solve public controversies and find economic solutions. Over the course of his term Gabai headed dozens of committees dealing with central economic issues such as the reforms in planning and construction, removing obstructions in the Israel Lands Administration, the water crisis, examining the concentration of economic control and the Trajtenberg Committee.

Netanyahu took advantage of Gabai's administrative ability and good nature and let him handle "hot potatoes" that came his way.

Gabai was the one to draw fire when the prime minister wanted to slash income supplements for ultra-Orthodox people. As head of a team appointed to reexamine this issue, Gabai made dramatic decisions to limit the allocations to five years. He became the brunt of invectives and abuse in the ultra-Orthodox street and media.

"It was convenient for Netanyahu to send Gabai to take the heat instead of having it directed at himself," a source said.

One of the reasons for Gabai's leaving is the prime minister's desire to appoint a more politically-oriented PMO director general, who will help him prepare the PMO for the elections.

Gabai, formerly head of Israel's Government Company Authority, refused to comment. His associates said his leaving was not due to a confrontation with the prime minister.

Netanyahu's relations with Gabai came to a head on three major issues. After a fire devasted the Carmel last December, Netanyahu set up a steering committee to rehabilitate the area.

It was supposed to coordinate the ministries' work as well as the needs of the fire victims.

Netanyahu appointed Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg to head the committee instead of Gabai, who was the natural candidate for the post.

"Netanyahu wanted to be seen as Superman saving the Carmel. He wanted to bring someone from outside to show he meant business. But he offended and humiliated Gabai, conveying to him he wasn't good enough," a source said.

"Often Netanyahu doesn't see the whole picture and is unaware his decisions hurt the people beneath him," the source said.

At any rate, the move failed. The head of Hof Hacarmel Regional Council refused to cooperate with Feirberg and several ministry director generals slammed the decision. Feirberg broke down after two days and resigned.

Another clash occurred recently, after Gabai tendered his resignation. Gabai submitted a reform plan for the Bedouin lands in the Negev. The report, which Netanyahu said he adopted, proposed that some 30,000 Bedouin move from their current location in exchange for land and compensation from the state.

But a few weeks later, probably due to pressures from the right, Netanyahu gave National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror the task of reexamining the report.

"Gabai worked hard on the report for two years and Netanyahu said he supported him. But when he heard criticism from the right, he appointed Amidror to reexamine Gabai's conclusions," a source in the PMO said.

Another crisis erupted over the appointment of Moshe Dayan as new civil service commissioner, over Gabai's objection.

Sources close to Gabai said on Thursday the outgoing director general had "extraordinary" support from the prime minister and appreciates the backing he received from Netanyahu and the ministries.