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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Who should be Israel's next foreign minister?

Binyamin Netanyahu starts negotiating on Wednesday to form a coalition government for Israel, and one of the first questions he has to face is whom to appoint as foreign minister? On the surface, it would appear that Netanyahu ought to pick someone who works well - or could work well - with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but Dick Morris points out that Clinton's power has been emasculated (Hat Tip: Memeorandum).
The power of the secretary of State flows directly from the president. But Hillary does not have the inside track with Obama. Rice and Powers, close advisers in the campaign, and Gen. Jones — whose office is in the White House — all may have superior access. Holbrooke and Mitchell will have more immediate information about the world’s trouble spots.

So what is Hillary’s mandate? Of what is she secretary of State? If you take the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan out of the equation, what is left? One would have to assume that the old North Korea hands in the government would monopolize that theater of action. What, precisely, is it that Hillary is to do? The question lingers.
For Netanyahu, this means that he must pick someone who can stand up to UN Ambassador Susan Rice, former Harvard professor Samantha Powers, General James Jones and Middle East Envoy George Mitchell (Holbrooke has nothing to do with us), none of whom is particularly known as friendly to Israel.

If Kadima is part of the government and Livni takes the number 2 spot, she will undoubtedly want the foreign ministry back. Given how she mishandled Resolution 1701 at the end of the Second Lebanon War and the 11th hour agreement with Condi Clueless on weapons smuggling last month, it is clear that Livni is not the sharpest razor in the medicine chest and ought not to be foreign minister. Yet another reason not to have Kadima in the government.

But Netanyahu has several excellent choices. Obviously, he could keep the ministry himself - he has been foreign minister before and he was Israel's UN ambassador in the early '80's where he first burst into prominence during the First Lebanon War. I think it's unlikely Netanyahu will keep the position for himself. There are too many candidates for cabinet positions for him to keep an extra one, and the foreign ministry needs a full-time minister.

One person I would consider appointing foreign minister is Avigdor Lieberman. Most of the talk here with regard to Lieberman and the cabinet would put him in the defense ministry. That would be a mistake. Israel needs someone as defense minister who knows how to deal with the army and not someone who has to learn on the job. Ehud Olmert tried appointing someone who had to learn on the job and we all know how that worked out. Besides, Netanyahu has Moshe (Boogie) Yaalon on his own list and Yaalon is an obvious choice for defense minister. But the foreign ministry might be a good fit for Lieberman. I don't know yet how bright he is, but he is certainly strong enough to withstand the pressures that Rice, Power, Jones and Mitchell may throw at him.

If Lieberman doesn't want it, I'd consider two other candidates for the foreign ministry. One is Benny Begin, who is high on the Likud's list, a straight shooter (which is the only kind of shooter the Americans want to see) and a strong ideologue. The other person I'd consider for the foreign ministry is Uzi Landau. Landau, the former Likud ideologue who is also known for his honesty, was number 2 on Yisrael Beiteinu's list and also has the grit to stand up to the American quartet.

You will note that one name I left off my short list is former foreign minister and Likud MK Sylvan Shalom. I believe he was out of his league during his stint at the foreign ministry (better than Livni but not by much) and that he would be manipulated by the Americans.

It's going to be fun speculating for the next few weeks....


At 1:15 PM, Blogger ProfessorPelotard said...

One can always dream. Benny Begin, Uzi Landau or Lieberman as FM all put a smile on my lips.

I try to imagine a meeting between any of them and the Swedish FM Carl Bildt (who will represent the EU second half of 2009). Oh boy, poor little Mr Bildt. He would certainly find himself out of his depth.

BTW this is what he writes on his blog today: "But it is important that the movement towards peace is not halted longer than necessary. A clear policy by the US and the EU may also help to form a peace-realistic government in Israel."

I don't think his interpretation of "peace-realistic" is the same as any of those mentioned above.

But note the claw; the US and the EU will not be above trying to meddle in the internal affairs of Israel.

If they even stand a chance is a whole different matter. ;)

At 3:38 PM, Blogger Captain Jarred Fishman, USAFR said...

Agree completely with everything you say. Obama will try and roll the Foreign Minister and the entire government, sending him Lieberman would be a nice move at the start of the chess game. I just hope Bibi gets the PM job somehow, they can't trust Livni to do ANYTHING that would go against Obama.

At 3:58 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Bibi's first term was marked by having a government without a comfortable majority and a powerful Left poised in the wings, waiting to take him down. Neither of those circumstances applies today. What he would want are people who can work well with him and he needs a solid team to get it done. Luckily, on the Right as a whole, there is a consensus about Iran and Gaza which is also a national consensus. I expect the Likud government to deal with Iran. Everything else at this point, is of academic importance.

At 5:12 PM, Blogger Ashan said...

I wish the Likud would promote Yuval Steinitz and Gideon Sa'ar. Both are intelligent and well-informed - and deserve a high position. We're all so tired of the same old, same old.

At 8:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


...O'Blanko would have been vaporized.

At 9:46 PM, Blogger LB said...

ahsan - "I wish the Likud would promote Yuval Steinitz and Gideon Sa'ar."

I couldn't agree more - especially Steinitz, who is brilliant.

Re: FM, Jeffrey Goldberg, whose conclusions I usually disagree with commented that Liberman might actually get the ministry, "since Israel doesn't have a foreign policy, just a defense policy."

At 9:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steinitz gets my vote. Uzi Landau is a nice, well meaning guy but he doesn't make the grade for such a critical position.

Let's start a petition. :)

At 9:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And Benny Begin should go home.

At 10:36 PM, Blogger Naftali2 said...

Political negotiations are always a matter of hardball politics, no matter how many cuddly photo ops there are.

The question is whether Israel can withstand any sanctions or penalties the US might impose for disagreements with those doing the diplomacy.

Or, and I don't know if this is possible, but Israeli politics could become sufficiently chaotic that not only would Israel not know if they are talking to a person who has the right authority (because Obama has just played three card monte with the position of Secy. of State), but neither would the US know if they are talking to someone with authority.

At 11:16 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

All of you suggesting Steinitz,

It would be nice but I'm afraid he's too far down the list to get one of the top three positions (foreign, defense and finance).

At 11:35 PM, Blogger LB said...

Of course Steinitz is too far down on the list. I think the sentiment is that it's pity. If Bibi wanted, he could have supported Steinitz more, making him a more prominent figure, and more successful in the primaries.

The again, he is in the top 10 - he does have a shot and the second tier of ministries (interior, education, trade).

At 8:12 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


My guess is that Livnat, with whom Netanyahu is very close, will go back to Education, and that either Yisrael Beiteinu or Shas will take Interior. Trade? I think that's a waste of Steinitz's talent. I'd rather see him at Internal Security.

At 8:35 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

If Kadima does join a national unity government, all of that is moot. They will probably get Foreign Affairs and Finance or Justice at a minimum. Bibi wants to bring Tzipi Livni inside in order to quell criticism of his policies and it really doesn't matter if rump Labor stays in or out of the government.

At 9:36 PM, Blogger LB said...

Norman - you're right.

Carl - I had almost forgot about Livnat, seems like she tries to stay out of the headlines these days(or someone is keeping her out...). Steinitz for internal security would be great, actually - crime (both organized and not) has become a big problem, and the police just isn't doing enough.

The Shas/Lieberman fight over interior will be not be an easy one, and I think it will end up going to Lieberman - with Bibi paying Shas' price for it.

At 7:07 PM, Blogger Soccer Dad said...

Steinitz has an additional advantage of being a former Shalom Achshav-nik who saw the light.


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