It All Depends on Who Is Appointed

Only four months have passed and Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition already resembles a sinking ship.

Only four months have passed and Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition resembles a sinking ship. The prime minister thought that if he set up the largest coalition in Israel's history and generously handed out positions and spoils, everyone would vote with him on important issues. But they thought differently and torpedoed his "baby" this week - the reform of the Israel Lands Administration.

This reform would benefit the people. It would remove barriers, cut bureaucracy, speed up the marketing of land and bring down apartment prices. But the extreme right has joined the Bolshevik left and together they have made the prime minister look ridiculous.

Perhaps now Netanyahu will grasp that the image he built for himself in his first 100 days in office is what worked against him. That's what will make it impossible for him to rule, because someone who bends to the whims of Shas, the Labor Party and Histadrut labor federation leader Ofer Eini must not be surprised when he is not treated seriously. Someone who increased spending, entitlements and taxes against his basic beliefs should not be angry when he loses his deterrent power. With his own hands, Netanyahu cut off his tresses. He has been revealed as a weak person, without backbone, who changes positions constantly. So is it surprising that MKs Tzipi Hotovely, Miri Regev and Isaac Herzog make fun of him?

Netanyahu is following firmly in the footsteps of Ehud Olmert. One after the other, he is repeating the previous prime minister's mistakes, so he will reach the same spot in a relatively short time. Olmert, too, thought he could control everything, including the Finance Ministry. That's why he appointed Abraham Hirchson finance minister, an old crony deeply indebted to him. He wanted someone who would bend to his every whim. A puppet finance minister. And that's what he got. That's also why no suitable position remained for Amir Peretz other than defense minister, a job he was not suited for.

The army acts like a cowboy, eager to go into action. That's why there has to be a sheriff who can hold it back. We need a responsible adult with experience in security matters who can rein it in so it will not rush into a risky operation. That was how Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Rabin held the army back when they were prime minister. But when Peretz - someone who lacked authority and experience - had to deal with the army, they ate him for lunch. That's why Olmert did not have anyone to stop the army from rushing into the Second Lebanon War, which we emerged from badly bruised. That was the beginning of the end for Olmert. After that, he did not regain his former strength.

Netanyahu did the exact same thing when he formed his government. He, too, wanted to control the treasury, so he appointed his friend Yuval Steinitz as finance minister, someone whose professional background is philosophy and whose political career has been in foreign affairs and defense, not economics. About 20 minutes after the appointment, Netanyahu released a statement saying he had appointed himself economic strategy minister, so everyone should know who the real boss was.

Netanyahu wanted a puppet who would do everything he said. He looked for someone who would not interfere when he gave in to Eini, Labor Party leader Ehud Barak or Shas chairman Eli Yishai, because prime ministers always want to spend as much money as possible with a view to keeping the coalition together.

The result is that no one can fill the classic role of finance minister - watching the state coffers. There is no one to stand up to the prime minister and say "we don't have money." There is no one to fight passionately against canceling reforms. The result will be bad - less growth and more unemployment.

The second puzzling appointment was that of Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister (after all, it would have been possible to switch the two). This is the least appropriate appointment imaginable. Lieberman is like a red rag to the Egyptians, Jordanians and all the other Arab states. He is also not wanted in Europe or the United States. In fact, he is neutralized as foreign minister. Defense Minister Barak and President Shimon Peres have taken on the roles of "selling" Israel to the world as a normal and peace-seeking country. Barak handles relations with the United States while Peres deals with the Arab world. The attitude toward Lieberman was demonstrated clearly by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who recommended that Netanyahu get rid of him. When Netanyahu said that "in private conversations Lieberman sounds different," Sarkozy replied: "In private conversations, Jean-Marie Le Pen also is a nice person."

The price of this unsuitable appointment is that the government does not have a foreign minister who can tell it what is happening in the world. There is no one to moderate the ministers' harsh criticism. There is no one to explain what is happening to Israel's image in world public opinion and what price we will have to pay in Europe and the United States.

These inappropriate appointments will bring Netanyahu's term of office to an early end. The vote on the reform of the lands administration is merely the first step.