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 thing...in 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 pledge...it'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.