Goodbye, Shalom

As midnight approached last night, Silvan Shalom's fate was still unclear. He waited in his office, just meters from Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu's, for the offer that would save him. But it tarried, and what did come in the end wasn't good. A French-Jewish wheeler-dealer named Meir Haviv shuttled between him and Netanyahu, after inheriting the job from Reuven Rivlin, the new-old Knesset speaker. Looking at this ever-expanding cabinet, with its battalions of portfolio-less ministers and deputy ministers, it's clear that Rivlin cut the best deal: 90 MKs voted for him in an open ballot, sparing him the humiliating trek to bang down the leader's door.

Last night the hubbub around Netanyahu's office reached its peak: Moshe Kahlon came and went, as did Yuli Edelstein, three times in all. One chunk, and then another, was ripped out of the pitiful Communication Ministry, which should have been dismantled long ago. Everyone was panicked, breathless, as if it hadn't been six weeks since the election, seven days since the end of negotiations with Labor. One after the other, they came, and only Shalom, the nebbish, cooled his heels in his office. He wanted to leave the Knesset before midnight but was persuaded to stick around a bit longer.

When these lines were written, Yuval Steinitz was Netanyahu's pick for finance minister. Steinitz is an honest politician but lacks any particular experience or knowledge of economics, and is a friend of the Netanyahus, especially of Sara. There are at least two more suitable Likud candidates for the post, Shalom and Dan Meridor. Both have been finance minister before, both know the job well. Appointing Steinitz to this critical position, at such a critical time, is like asking a deckhand to captain the ship that's just a few miles from the Bermuda Triangle.

Before deciding Shalom's fate, Netanyahu decided to dismantle his potential camp, to contain the damage in case Shalom would decide not to join the government. Netanyahu informed Michael Eitan, Yossi Peled and Yuli Edelstein that he would appoint them as ministers without portfolio and told Gila Gamliel she would get a deputy minister post. All four are suspected of being potential Shalom allies who could make Netanyahu's life difficult if Shalom doesn't get a job.