1. Not quite tied up: The government’s swearing-in has already been pushed off twice, but the Israeli press seems fairly confident the third time will be the charm, despite lingering questions over whether everybody is falling in line.
- “Get to work,” reads the top headline of Israel Hayom, though both it and fellow tabloid Yedioth Ahronoth qualify its preview of the government swearing-in with the caveat “if there are no surprises.”
- On Saturday night, reports filtered through the press of meetings Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu was having with his lawmakers who were jockeying for position, including Avi Dichter and Tzachi Hanegbi, who had staged a rebellion on Thursday over their lack of spots, and by 9:30 a.m. Sunday morning, less than four hours till swearing-in time, there is still no word on where they will land, if anywhere.
- Reports Haaretz: “Netanyahu still has not decided who will lead the Energy Ministry, and Likud ministers Tzachi Hanegbi and Tzipi Hotovely still have not been given roles. Neither have Nir Barkat and Avi Dichter, who view themselves as candidates. Gidon Sa’ar, who challenged Netanyahu in the party’s leadership primary earlier this year, was also not given a portfolio, but said it is a ‘great honor’ to serve the country as a Knesset member.”
2. You can lead a minister to water: “With a few hours to go, Netanyahu has only left to hand out the Energy and Water Ministry, from which he decided to boot Yuval Steinitz, and the Higher Education Ministry, which he has offered to several MKs but has yet to find a taker,” reports Walla’s Tal Shalev.
- On Twitter, she reports that it seems Steinitz will in the end be allowed to stay in Energy Ministry, but without the water.
- Most other outlets, though, report that Steinitz, who was also offered the higher education post, will instead just be demoted to a regular ole’ lawmaker.
- A few moments later, Likud announces that indeed Ze’ev Elkin will be promoted to Water Resources Minister, and will take the higher education post nobody else wanted, seemingly pointing to Steinitz staying on as Mr. Energy.
- The idea of a minister devoted to H2O who will be in charge of desalination, the Sea of Galilee and other reservoirs is apparently hilarious and ridiculous to many.
- “No words. I’ll just add this with the amount of shit being spewed from people’s mouths in the last few days, I suggest a minister for sewage affairs, with at least two deputy ministers,” tweets journalist Avi Issacharoff.
- “Why not a socks minister. (finding lost socks would add millions of work hours to the economy,” joshes Kan’s Michael Shemesh.
- But Globes reporter Tal Schneider notes that splitting ministries is nothing new, pointing out that only a few years ago, education, sports and culture were all under one roof.
3. You get a job, and you get a job, and you get a job: As for all the others who already got posts, newspapers are continuing to eye the embarrassment of ministries warily.
- With 34 ministers (eventually 36) and 16 deputy ministers, the government is set to be the biggest in the country’s history, leading Yedioth to dub it the “government of waste,” in big bold letters on its A1.
- The paper zeroes in particularly on David Amsalem, who was given the role of minister in charge of liaising between the cabinet and Knesset, dubbing him the Minister of Sweetheart Jobs. (In Hebrew, the idea of a plum position is conveyed by writing the English word “job” in Hebrew characters).
- According to Yedioth, Amsalem, whose role is directly under the prime minister, will gain control of the Government Companies Authority, which had previously been under the aegis of the Finance Ministry. “He will be responsible for 70 companies and over 1,000 appointments of board members of the companies. Among the government firms: Israel Aerospace Industries, the Israel Electric Corporation, The Ports Authority, and Israel Railways.”
- Amsalem tells Kan radio that he also thinks the innumerable ministries are ridiculous, but don’t blame him or his boss: “If this were a normal, national government,I assume that many of these portfolios would not exist. You need to call [Benny] Gantz and ask him how it can be that with 19 MKs, he gets 17 ministers.”
- To some, though, it’s not the size that matters, but the way you use it.
You’re Bibi Netanyahu. You have Ministry for Regional Cooperation to allocate in Likud. Not huge portfolio but intriguing/influential one. Do you give it to:
a) Tzachi Hanegbi, most experienced MK in party
b) Avi Dichter, fluent Arabic speaker/former Shin Bet chief
c) Ofir Akunis
— Neri Zilber (@NeriZilber) May 17, 2020
- Also on Twitter, Kan reporter Sharon Idan jokingly asks whether there is a minister to liaise between Israel’s government and reality.
4. It’s not all right: Israel Hayom is still not giving up the ghost of Yamina coming into the Knesset, running two separate analyses about why it’s so important to bring the right-wingers in.
- In one, Jacob Bardugo pines for the good old days when Yamina was part of Netanyahu’s right-religious bloc created after the second round of elections, which he says acted as a single party.
- “You can call it the Israeli Republican Party or the Israeli Conservative Party. But the direction is clear: a bridge uniting the right-wing political streams and all the heads of the parties, under one captain,” he writes.
- ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur, though, writes that by moving to the opposition, Yamina is finally finding a way to move away from Netanyahu’s long shadow and carve a power structure of its own as an actual alternative to Likud, rather than just a satellite.
- “A more independent Yamina, backed publicly by the influential heads of the major Israeli regional councils in the West Bank, would be able to force concessions out of a Likud-led government that unconditional support for Netanyahu never could,” he notes.
- Speaking to Army Radio, former Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev takes aim at current Jewish Home head Rafi Peretz, who split off from Yamina to join the government: “His behavior while in office has not proven his honesty or integrity, and has disconnected him from the public. [Jerusalem Mayor] Moshe Lion and his predecessors didn’t need a minister above them. This does not serve the nation or religious Zionism.”
5. Challenges ahoy: The coming of a new government marks a good time to take a look at what challenges may bring it to an untimely death.
- Channel 12’s Yaron Avraham looks at the various “landmines” the new government faces, from annexation to the rotation deal to the oft-forgotten budget battle: “Budgets are always a challenge, but this time there are indications it is especially serious, given the need to deal with the ramification of the coronavirus crisis and make deep cuts to budgets,” he writes.
- Haaretz’s Jonathan Lis adds a few more items to the list, including Netanyahu being disqualified and controversial legislation, or the fact that lawmakers can’t pass any: “The freeze on legislation will deprive Knesset members and other parties from chalking up achievements they can present to their voters, so this will be hard to enforce.”
- In Yedioth, former minister Daniel Friedman writes that the new government is already a failure when it comes to gaining the public’s confidence: “
- “It seems there is no legal impediment to having a government with 36 ministers and 16 deputy ministers, with two prime ministers and a residence for each of the two heads. This is where the flag of public trust gets folded up and stored away.”
6. Annex another day: With the new government come new warnings against annexation, this time from King Abdullah of Jordan, whose interview to Der Speigel over the weekend in which he spoke out forcefully against the move is taken seriously by much of the press.
- If Israel really annexed the West Bank in July, it would lead to a massive conflict with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,” Abdullah told the German paper.
- Amos Harel reports in Haaretz that Israeli defense officials believe Abdullah is not bluffing and his words reflect how seriously he is taking the subject: “Experts in the defense establishment believe that under extreme circumstances domestic pressures might even lead the king to cancel the peace treaty with Israel,” he reports.
- Walla’s Amir Oren writes that between Pompeo’s hints at caution and Abdullah’s words, the message is clear: Annexation is off the table.
- “There will be no annexation. Netanyahu’s empty words won’t change the build-up of facts on the ground. It never had a chance,” he writes.
- Channel 12’s Ehud Yaari reports that it’s not just Pompeo, but a large chunk of the Trump administration that is not so sure about the move: “Well-connected sources in Washington say that as opposed to Sheldon Adelson, most leaders of the evangelical community are not pushing Trump to back annexation.”
- In Slate, though, Joshua Keating writes that nothing is ever so cut-and-dried with Donald Trump: “Trump administration foreign policy positions are only as solid as the last tweet. If Netanyahu can get through to Trump and make clear that this is what he wants, is Trump really going to oppose the Israeli government on such a fraught issue in an election year?”