The new Israeli cabinet announced today is a government of the settlers, by the settlers and for the settlers. Of course, in the past government the settlers maintained dominance over all issues that concerned them. But the new coalition will solidify such control. Not only will there not now nor ever be a settlement freeze, there will be massive increases in settlement construction. This will also entail expanded thefts of Palestinian land. There will no longer be illegal outposts. There will only be sacred outposts on their way to becoming official settlements with the blessing of the government.
The most important position after prime minister is defense. Manning that portfolio will be the settler’s favorite minister, Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon. He deputy will be an MK, Zeev Elkin who is himself a settler. Naftali Bennet, the Palestine-denying leader of Bayit Yehudi, will become Hasbara (Public Diplomacy in English) and Trade minister. You can look forward to more of those wonderful YouTube videos in which a disembodied hand uses a magic marker to make the Palestinian problem disappear with a few lines and strokes of the pen.
Yair Lapid will take the finance portfolio and another Yesh Atid MK, Rabbi Shai Piron, will bump Gideon Saar, to become education minister. Piron is the fellow who told his followers some years ago that they must not rent or sell property to Arabs. He swears that he’s seen the error of his ways and doesn’t believe this any more. But whether that’s real conviction or political expediency remains to be seen. Saar will take the Interior portfolio. Tzipi Livni will bring up the rear as Justice minister, while taking on the added responsibility of pretending to have an Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Avigdor Lieberman will not be foreign minister until his legal problems evaporate. Bibi will hold that job for him until he returns.
Speaking of Bibi, he appears weaker in this government than in the last. He conceded many points and positions to his coalition partners and rivals. He was forced to drastically reduce the number of ministers so he had less patronage to dispense. While he’s still a masterful tactician, he may become increasingly irrelevant politically. This could be the gradual sunset of Bibi’s political career. Though it’s hard to count him out precisely yet.
All this happens with the background of Barack Obama’s upcoming first ever visit as president to Israel. There are almost no expectations of anything substantive arising from his visit. Tom Friedman, with his usual noblesse oblige, says that the Israel-Palestine peace process has become a “hobby” for Obama. I couldn’t think of a more infelicitous choice of words. But certainly expected from Tom Terrific.
The irony of a supposedly liberal U.S. leader arriving in a country that has just elected the most extremist government in its history shouldn’t be lost on anyone.
The U.S. embassy is trying to drum up interest in Obama’s speaking engagements by auctioning off tickets via Facebook. They ask you to explain why you deserve to hear the president. If I were interested in hearing Obama speak my pitch would shower the president with praise for adopting the worst of Israel’s anti-terror tactics and strategy and claiming that they honor the Constitution. That really is a miracle of transformative rhetoric.