Monday, February 23, 2009

Avigdor Lieberman? Foreign Minister? Oy Vey!

I can't believe I'm still talking about Israel, but I guess it saves me the trouble of bellyaching about the stimulus package and rest of the depressing news out of the Obama Administration...and you probably find it more interesting than the other story I'm watching, which is the unrest in the French-owned Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique (which you may hear about soon). And, since Sen. Roland Burris isn't resigning yet, we're going to do an update on Israeli coalition negotiations.

Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu is going to be Prime Minister, but other than that, everything else is up in the air. Bibi seemed prepared to offer the Kadima Party full partnership in the government, with leader Tzipi Livni keeping her job as Foreign Minister and Kadima #2 man Shaul Mofaz taking the Defense Ministry. Sweet deal, but Livni told him to take a hike...she wanted a rotation deal where she would take over as Prime Minister in two years and serve out the second half of Bibi's term. So, Netanyahu had to turn to the left wing Labor Party to save his hopes of forming broad-based "unity government"...but they essentially told him to take a flying leap. There will likely be a second meeting between Netanyahu in Livni, but at this point it looks like the country will instead be governed by a narrow coalition of right-wing parties...which brings us back (once again) to Israel's most fascinating and eccentric politician, Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party.

With Kadima and Labor both rejecting the opportunity to join the Netanyahu Administration, it will now be paramount for the Prime Minister to keep all of his coalition partners happy. Of course, the largest single partner will be Lieberman and his following of hardcore nationalists, and it looks like Lieberman has decided what he wants in exchange for propping up Netanyahu. It's not the Defense Ministry (where I thought he could end up), it's the Foreign Ministry.

Now, let me try to paint a picture of how difficult of a spot this could put Netanyahu in. Let us pretend that America has an Israeli-style government, and John McCain is the Prime Minister-designate. The Republican Party only holds a quarter of the seats Parliament, and Prime Minister McCain's original plan had been to form a coalition with the Moderate Party of America, led by Hillary Clinton (equivalent to Livni and Kadima), but she turned him down. He then turned to the Socialist Party, led by Barack Obama (equivalent to the Labor Party), who also refused (thank goodness). Left with no other option, McCain must turn to the illegal-immigration-focused America First Party, led by firebrand Rep. Tom Tancredo (equal to Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu). This actually seems like a decent fit, as the two have a lot in common on spending and foreign relations, and it would be workable except for one exchange for his support, Tancredo demands that McCain make him Secretary of State.

I don't care what you think of Rep. Tancredo, it would be hard to imagine giving the country's top diplomatic position to an anti-illegal firebrand who is not exactly known for his tact. In the same way, Netanyahu might have to swallow hard before giving the Foreign Ministry to Avigdor Lieberman, who campaigned on the idea of revoking the citizenship of Israeli Arabs unless they take some sort of loyalty's a PR nightmare. My guess is that Bibi will try to wheel and deal by offering him another Cabinet position, but assuming Livni doesn't have a change of heart, it seems likely that Lieberman will get what he wants. There are only three top-tier Cabinet ministries: Foreign, Defense, and Finance - and Bibi really wants to keep Lieberman away from the Defense Ministry (equal to Secretary of Defense). I don't think Lieberman is much of an economist - so he's not going to want the Finance Ministry (Treasury Secretary). Hence, it's probably a good bet that Lieberman will become Foreign Minister. Putting him in charge of Israel's relations with the rest of the world is a scary prospect...but putting him in charge of the military would be much scarier.

So, my fellow Americans...get ready to meet Israel's most eccentric leader, as he's now likely to be the first guy you see on CNN whenever Israel ends up in the news. If nothing else, he will definitely be entertaining.


  1. Thanks for this lesson about current Israeli politics, Adam. I can see that negotiating deals within a parliamentary system is a headache, but at least their election seasons are brief. This last presidential election in the US was so ghastly long and draining....

  2. Indeed. I do envy the parliamentary system in two regards:

    1. Short election seasons
    2. The ability to call snap elections and vote bums out before they do any more damage.

  3. nobody saw the speech last night to congress?

  4. i'm surprised considering guides were sent to each u.s. city to sound fanfare trumpets just for the occasion.

  5. I wrote about my reaction on a previous thread here, Scott.

    Yeah, I heard the blaring trumpets, too. Just ralphing the whole time here....

    DID YOU CATCH the sneaky dodge about the budget two days from now? Obambi ignored THAT budget, skipping over to his plans to "go austere next year."

    Ri-ight.... I am NOT holding my breath on THAT one! He'll learn: the other politicians will NOT TOLERATE THE WORD, "NO!"

    WHEN will Americans wake up and throw (nearly) every incumbent out (just not the truly-decent ones)?

  6. Here's what I posted elsewhere:

    << Well, what did you think of Bobby Jindal's response last night to Obama's speech? The pundits pretty much trashed Jindal's "delivery," but considering how Jindal usually speaks, I think he did a terrific job!

    For once, Jindal varied his volume and tone, smiled very frequently, and kept his forehead from being furrowed at all----which is a miracle; usually it's deeply knit as he hammers point after point during interviews.

    Most importantly, Jindal made excellent points in sensitive ways about why the Republican Party is very concerned about this Porkulus Package.

    Jindal does come off as a kind, but extremely brainy wonk. Obama and Jindal are both Rhodes Scholars, too, so Jindal might wind up in the vice-presidential slot in the next election, with Gov. Palin as president----or vice versa.

    Or Jeb Bush might run, and since HE, too, is a brain, and was an excellent governor, he might get the presidential slot. However, Jeb would NEVER accept the VP slot, with Gov. Palin at the top of the ticket.

    I wonder if Hillary will be running in the next election----at least in the VP slot (I just can't imagine that they'd actually keep Biden).

  7. as usual obama is one heck of a speech performer.. now if he can deliver. I'm wondering when the tax increases for those making over 250 are going to come up.

    I like this part

    ((((So I know how unpopular it is to be seen as helping banks right now, especially when everyone is suffering in part from their bad decisions. I promise you - I get it.

    "But I also know that in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment." My job our job - is to solve the problem. Our job is to govern with a sense of responsibility.))))))

    the quoted part of the text above is why he was elected at all

    full speech text

  8. Excellent piece Adam, I enjoyed your take, as always... very informative.

    I have been reading the J-Post a lot lately, and am also quite fascinated by the developments and drama of the last few months. (also a fan of Caroline Glick, great column). If I were in Tehran, I think I would be building a bomb shelter under my house at this point. And the Israelis' swing to the right is an early rejection of Obama's pollyanna view and misguided plans for the middle east.

    I have a post on this that may (or may not!) interest you... all the best:

  9. Obama introduced cap n trade today. Obama keeps going about fiscal responsibility. What does he do today? He introduces a 3.6 trillion dollar budget. Last years was 2.9 trillion. Obama speaks will but he is going to be a dissater.

  10. Did anyone catch Glenn Beck's Fox show today. He was on fire. Ripping both Republicans and Democrats for all the PORK in that bill that passed the house yesterday. We need to wake up Repubs and Dems in Washington. They are spending way to much. If Obama says one more time how he inherited 1 trillion deficcit this year. Obama voted for Bush's bailout. He is responsible than. that was 750 billion. Obama is trying to spend your way out of recession. Just like Bush. So Obama/Bush are going to rack up close to a 2 trillion dollar deficit in 2009.