If it seems like every step taken by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his now no-longer-nascent government is a drama-filled, down-to-the-wire, edge-of-your-seat test of wills, it’s probably because it is.
Thursday night’s government swearing-in, after hours of tension as Netanyahu scrambled to placate party members and hand out posts, was no exception. And the Friday morning papers are only too happy to oblige with packages showing off the new cabinet and all the work and broken hearts that went into creating it, with a healthy dollop of criticism slathered all around.
With a tiny 61-seat coalition, it seems the histrionics will likely continue until the government’s last, hoary gasps, whether they be in two weeks from now or two years, though considering the less-than-awe-inducing events of the night before, it seems most in the fourth estate are rooting for the former.
“After everything: a government” reads the headline on the front page of Israel Hayom, telegraphing the sigh of relief likely emitted from Netanyahu after he was finally able to swear in the government.
While the paper doesn’t shy away from the main controversy, the blackballing of Likud No. 2 Gilad Erdan — who demanded the Foreign Ministry and got bupkus — it does seem to harbor the false hope that the drama is behind the new ruling class, writing that what began with arguments ended with hugs.
“The lion’s share of Likud members expressed satisfaction with the positions they got,” the paper reports.
It’s a slightly different story in rival Yedioth Ahronoth, which plays up opposition leader Isaac Herzog’s slamming of the whole procedure as a “circus.” The paper itself calls the event a “farce” and given all the craziness — including Arab MKs being kicked out of the plenum, ministers only finding out their postings with the rest of the country, and somebody forgetting to tell President Reuven Rivlin that they delayed the swearing-in, leading to him embarrassingly showing up hours early — one might be inclined to agree.
Political columnist Sima Kadmon, giving a first-person account of the night, headlines her piece “Dying of embarrassment,” and it doesn’t get much kinder from there.
“The swearing-in ceremony for the government, which closed out two months of negotiations, proves beyond any doubt that it is impossible to form a government more careless and less respectable than what was created in the fourth Netanyahu government,” she writes. “This is a narrow Likud-right–ultra-Orthodox coalition. From this morning, our face to the world is [Deputy Foreign Minister] Tzipi Hotovely, who supports Jewish access to the Temple Mount. There are those who will say we deserve it. But not this. Nobody deserves this.”
In Haaretz, Yossi Verter doesn’t go any gentler on the Netanyahu government, quipping that “this isn’t how you build a government, it’s how you build a bonfire.
“Who would have dreamed on election night that Netanyahu, with 30 seats in his pocket, heading into his fourth term as prime minister, making him second only to David Ben-Gurion for length of tenure, would so swiftly morph from king into doormat,” he asks, surmising that all the nicks suffered by the prime minister first by coalition partners, and then Likud members similarly demanding pounds of flesh, have left him in his weakest position yet.
As for Herzog, who declared that Netanyahu should stop reserving the Foreign Ministry post for him, because he ain’t coming, Verter calls the speech one of his best ever. “It was aggressive, sharp and unequivocal,” he writes.
But in Israel Hayom, Boaz Bismuth says, not for the first time, that the opposition should quit all its bellyaching and just acquiesce to Netanyahu’s great and mighty rule.
“Hello? Does anyone in the opposition remember that there were elections here in March and the nation had something to say to Mr. Herzog and Ms. [Tzipi] Livni,” he writes. “Maybe the elections are just a side detail, since Ms. Livni is worried, as she said in her speech last night, about the fate of Israeli democracy. Maybe to calm her we should allow the losing party to form the next government. Democracy Livni style.”
As for Erdan’s decision to stay out of the government after Netanyahu refused to make him foreign minister, Yedioth calls it an “eternal blow to the prime minister,” with the Likud leader losing one of his closest party allies.
“After Herzog refused the Foreign Ministry post, why is Netanyahu keeping it for himself?” the paper quotes a Likud source saying.
Commentator Shimon Shafir notes that, with his falling out with Netanyahu, Erdan has now joined a growing list of former party up-and-comers pushed away by the man in charge.
“On the way to building the government, [Netanyahu] strengthened his image as someone who is extorted, confused… He proved, and not for the first time, that no one in the Likud will manage to ‘flower’ alongside him, as is done is Western political systems,” he writes.
Erdan wasn’t Netanyahu’s only setback Thursday, though.
Israel Hayom reports that Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein is putting the kibosh on Netanyahu’s coalition-agreement promise to Jewish Home to transfer some NIS 50 million to the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization, which funds and plans settlement construction and other projects in the West Bank. The paper reports that Weinstein ruled that an earlier decision called for the faucet to be turned off until an executive committee formed to examine what is happening inside the agency, and until that happens the government is not allowed to pump more money in, coalition deal or not.
That’s good news for Haaretz, which comes right out in its lead editorial and expresses hopes that Netanyahu’s new government, void of any vision toward peace, will fall soon. Among the litany of things the paper is not happy about are who got what jobs, though considering who is in the coalition, it’s hard to believe they would be happy with nearly any appointments.
“Netanyahu insisted on giving the right jobs to all the wrong people,” the paper writes. “Naftali Bennett, who represents right-wing, ultranationalist extremism, will be the education minister of all Israeli students. Ayelet Shaked, to whom the principles of separation of powers and judicial independence are superfluous frills, was entrusted with the Justice Ministry. Uri Ariel, who routinely acts to expand settlements and to further entrench the occupation, is to head the Agriculture Ministry, which will also receive control of the World Zionist Organization’s Settlement Division. And Miri Regev, for whom shrillness is an art form, was appointed culture and sports minister.”
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