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Bibi settles settler government on Israelis and Palestinians

UPDATE, March 15th: The post of Speaker of the Knesset has been given to Yuli Edelstein who lives in the illegal West Bank settlement of Neve Daniel and who recently called for Israel to annex the West Bank. Edelstein immigrated from the former Soviet Union in 1987.

Uncanny likeness between the Joker and Naftali Bennett noted by Richard Silverstein.


Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett; deals for power in new government giving pro-settler Bennett Housing, Defence to pro-settler Moshe Yaalon, while  Lapid gets the finance ministry. 


New Israeli government to give settlers upper hand

By Vita Bekker, Foreign Desk, The National
March 16, 2013

TEL AVIV // Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday signed deals with new coalition partners giving major power to settlers and their backers, analysts say.

Mr Netanyahu will today inform the president, Shimon Peres, that he has formed a government and the cabinet is expected to be sworn in on Monday, two days before a visit by Barack Obama, the US president, to Israel and the West Bank.

The new government’s pro-settler leanings are likely to lessen chances of restarting peace talks with Palestinians, who view Jewish settlements in the West Bank as the main impediment to establishing a state.

“The first thing this government needs to do is announce that it accepts the two-state solution and that it’ll stop settlement activities,” Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian negotiator, said yesterday. “Otherwise, it’ll just be a repetition of the previous government.”

The post of defence minister, whose final nod is needed for any settlement construction, has been given to Moshe Yaalon, a former army chief and member of Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party who favours expansion.

Mr Yaalon was a high-profile critic of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal of settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip and has condemned Ehud Barak, his predecessor, for being too slow in approving settlement construction.

The addition to the coalition of Jewish Home, a pro-settler party that rejects Palestinian statehood and supports Israel annexing most of the West Bank, is also likely to help the settlement enterprise grow.

The party will control the housing ministry, and the industry, trade and labour ministry and the powerful parliamentary finance committee, both of which could shift more government benefits and funds to settlers.

“This will be a settler-friendly government, without a doubt,” said Yossi Alpher, an Israeli political analyst. “With Jewish Home holding ministries like housing, it means budgets for the settlers, with Yaalon looking the other way because he is friendly to the settlers.”

Such an approach is likely to put peace talks on the back burner, with Mr Netanyahu’s coalition partners opting to focus on long-simmering internal issues such as reducing the power of the Jewish ultra-Orthodox minority.

A shift to domestic matters may also put off any Israeli strikes on the nuclear facilities of Iran, which Mr Netanyahu views as the major threat to Israel’s security.

In the previous government, he and his defence minister were perceived to be the main advocates of such an attack. But Mr Yaalon also favours a diplomatic solution to curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, suggesting that a strike should be a “last option”.

The new coalition may also deal a blow to Israeli Palestinian parties.

Mr Netanyahu is under pressure from his new partners to raise the threshold a party needs to enter the parliament to 4 per cent of the total vote from 2 per cent.

In the January election, the two Arab parties and the joint Jewish-Arab movement all won less than 4 per cent of the vote.

Palestinian leaders, who have criticised Mr Netanyahu for settlement expansion, yesterday demanded that he express support for a state of Palestine when he swears in his government.

In 2009, less than three months after his second premiership began, he declared for the first time his support for a Palestinian state – albeit a “demilitarised” one.

Leaders of Yesh Atid, the fiercely secular party that has become the second-biggest coalition partner, have indicated their focus will not be on stopping state support for settlers, but on improving economic conditions for the middle class and battling ultra-Orthodox influence.

Yair Lapid, a former TV news anchor and head of Yesh Atid, supports settlement growth even in the case of new peace talks. He also rejects granting the mostly Arab East Jerusalem to the Palestinians under any pact and has called Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas a fraud. Mr Lapid will be named as finance minister, his spokesman said.

Yesh Atid’s Shai Piron, a rabbi who lives in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, is slated to become education minister. Mr Piron said on Thursday that he would advance an initiative started by his right-wing predecessor for Israeli schools to visit the West Bank city of Hebron.

The idea was regarded as a bid by the right to strengthen Israel’s hold on Hebron, home to more than 160,000 Palestinians and about 500 Jews. Mr Piron has also been quoted in the past as telling his religious followers not to lease or sell property to Arabs.


Israeli Leaders Form New Government, Complicating Peace Process

By Jodi Rudoren, NY Times
March 15, 2013

JERUSALEM — Political leaders on Friday signed agreements to form a new Israeli government that would almost certainly complicate the prospect of jump-starting a moribund peace process, focus attention on the economy and widen the rift between the ultra-Orthodox and more secular communities.

The deal was signed just days before President Obama was scheduled to visit Israel, helping shore up Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s diminished political standing but putting in place a government that could aggravate already tense relations between Israel and the United States on the issue of settlements.

After weeks of tough negotiations, Naftali Bennett, a former leader in the settler community, and Yair Lapid, the founder of a new party focused on domestic affairs, on Friday agreed on to join Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition, giving Israel a new government just ahead of Saturday’s legal deadline.

Mr. Bennett and Mr. Lapid abandoned their demand to be named deputy prime ministers, which had delayed the expected signing on Thursday afternoon. A spokesman for Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party said the prime minister had decided not to have any deputy or vice prime ministers in his third term because the titles were meaningless.

“We will work together in the new government cooperating for all the citizens of Israel,” the third-term prime minister said in a statement. “We will work toward strengthening Israel’s security and improving quality of life of Israeli citizens.”

The new government, with a 68-seat majority in the 120-member Parliament and a relatively small 22-minister cabinet, is only the third since 1977 not to include Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties, which have vowed a vigorous opposition. It is made up of five factions with a range of constituencies and somewhat contradictory positions on critical questions including the Palestinian conflict.

Mr. Bennett’s right-leaning Jewish Home Party, popular with religious settlers, advocated annexing large swaths of the West Bank during its campaign. Mr. Lapid’s largely secular, centrist Yesh Atid Party, and Tzipi Livni’s center-left Hatnua, support the establishment of a Palestinian state in that territory and call for a quick return to negotiations.

Mr. Netanyahu also officially backs a two-state solution to the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but his partner in the Jan. 22 elections, Avigdor Lieberman of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party, has been among the harshest critics of President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.

Given those differences, the new government is expected to focus on domestic concerns, including integrating the ultra-Orthodox into the military and work force, education, housing, and religious pluralism.

“We promised during the elections to take care of the cost of living, to increase economic competitiveness and to return the Jewish spirit to the state — and now we have got the tools for this,” Mr. Bennett, who will serve as minister of economics and trade, said in a statement. “This is the government of big opportunity — and we will not miss it. Next week we start working — all of us together.”


To the Victor, the Spoils

By Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom
March 16, 2013

In the days following the recent Israeli elections, Ya’ir Lapid, the major winner, let it be known that he wanted to be the next Foreign Minister.

No wonder. It’s the hell of a job. You can’t lose, because the Foreign Minister is responsible for nothing. Serious foreign fiascos are always laid at the door of the Prime Minister, who determines foreign policy anyway. The Foreign Minister travels around the world, stays in luxury hotels with gourmet cuisine, has his picture taken in the company of royalty and presidents, appears almost daily on TV. Sheer paradise.

For someone who declares publicly that he wants to become Prime Minister soon, perhaps in a year and a half, this post is very advantageous. People see you among the world’s great. You look “prime ministerial”.

Moreover, no experience is needed. For Lapid, who entered politics less than a year ago, this is ideal. He has all a Foreign Minister needs: good looks and a photogenic quality. After all, he made his career on TV.

So why did he not become Foreign Minister? Why has he let himself be pushed into the Finance Ministry – a far more strenuous job, which can make or break a politician?

Simply because the Foreign Ministry has a big sign on its door: Occupied.

THE LAST Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, was, probably, the least suitable person for the job in the whole country. He is no Apollo. He has an air of brutality, shifty eyes and spare vocabulary. He is unpopular everywhere in the world except Russia and its satellites. He has been avoided throughout by most of his international colleagues. Many of them consider him an outright fascist.

But Netanyahu is afraid of Lieberman. Without Lieberman’s parliamentary storm troopers, Likud has only 20 seats – just one more than Lapid. And within the joint party, Lieberman may well replace Netanyahu in the not too distant future.

Lieberman has been forced out of the Foreign Office by the law that forbids an indicted person to serve in the government. For many years now, a dark judicial cloud has been hanging over his head. Investigations followed suspicions of huge bribes. In the end, the Attorney General decided to content himself with an indictment for fraud and breach of trust: a minor diplomat turned over to Lieberman a secret police dossier concerning his investigation and was awarded an ambassadorship.

Netanyahu’s fear of Lieberman induced him to promise that the Foreign Minister’s post would remain empty until the final judgment in Lieberman’s case. If acquitted, his lofty position will be waiting for him.

This may be a unique arrangement. After barring Lapid’s ambition to succeed him, Lieberman declared this week triumphantly: “Everyone knows that the Foreign Office belongs to the Israel Beitenu party!”

THAT IS an interesting statement. It may be worthwhile pondering its implications.

How can any government office “belong” to a party?

In feudal times, the King awarded his nobles hereditary fiefs. Each nobleman was a minor king in his domain, in theory owing allegiance to the sovereign but in practice often almost independent. Are modern ministries such fiefs “belonging” to the party chiefs?

This is a question of principle. Ministers are supposed to serve the country and its citizens. In theory, the best man or woman suited for the job should be appointed. Party affiliation, of course, does play a role. The Prime Minister must construct a working coalition. But the uppermost consideration, even in a multi-party democratic republic, should be the suitability of the candidate for the particular office.

Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Though no elected Prime Minister should go to the length of Ehud Barak, who displayed an almost sadistic delight in placing each of his colleagues in the ministry he was most unsuitable for. Shlomo Ben-Ami, a gentle history professor, was put into the Ministry of Police (a.k.a. Interior Security), where he was responsible for an incident in which several Arab citizens were shot. Yossi Beilin, a genius bubbling with original political ideas, was sent to the Ministry of Justice. And so on.

I remember meeting several of the new ministers at a diplomatic reception soon after. They were all deeply embittered and their comments were of course unprintable.

But that was not the point. The point was that by appointing ministers quite unsuitable to the tasks entrusted to them, Barak did great damage to the interests of the state. You don’t entrust your body to a surgeon who is really a lawyer, nor do you entrust your money to a banker who is really a biologist.

YET THE idea of political entitlement was hovering over the whole process of forming the cabinet. The awarding of the ministries more closely resembles a dispute among thieves over the spoils than a responsible process of manning or womanning the ministries which will be responsible for the security and well-being of the nation.

The quarrel that held up the formation of the new government for several crucial days was over the Ministry of Education. Lapid wanted it for his No. 2, an orthodox (though moderate) rabbi. The incumbent, Gideon Sa’ar, desperately clung to it, organizing petitions in his favor among teachers, mayors and what not.

This could have been a legitimate fight if it had been about questions of education. For example, Sa’ar, a fanatical Likud man, has sent the pupils to religious and nationalistic sites in Greater Eretz Israel, to imbue them with proper patriotic fervor. He is also more intent on his pupils winning international capability tests than on education as such.

But nobody spoke about these subjects. It was a simple fight over entitlement. In medieval times, it might have been fought out with lances in a tournament. In these civilized days, both sides use political blackmail. Lapid won.

I AM not a great admirer of Tzipi Livni and her air of a spoilt brat. But I am happy about her appointment to the Ministry of Justice.

Her last two predecessors were intent on destroying the Supreme Court and putting an end to “judicial activism”. (This seems to be a problem in many countries nowadays. Governments want to abolish the court’s power to annul anti-democratic laws.) Tzipi can be relied on to buttress the Supreme Court, seen by many as “the last bastion of Israeli democracy”.

Much more problematical is the appointment of Moshe Ya’alon as Minister of Defense. He inherited the job because there is just nobody around who could be appointed instead. Israelis take their defense seriously, and you cannot appoint, say, a gynecologist to this job.

“Bogy”, as everybody calls him, is a former Chief of Staff of the Army, and a very undistinguished one. Indeed, when he finished the standard three years on the job, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon refused to grant him the almost automatic fourth year. Bogy was bitter and complained that he always had to wear high boots, because of the many snakes in the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff. He may need them again now.

His many detractors call him a “bock” – German and Yiddish for a goat, symbolizing a lack of intelligence. He is an extreme militarist, who sees all problems through the sights of a gun. He can be sure of the allegiance of Israel’s vast army of ex-generals (or “degenerals”’ as I call them).

THE MOST problematical appointment of all is the choice of Uri Ariel for the crucial post of Minister of Housing.

Uri Ariel is the arch-settler. He was the founder of a settlement, a leader of the settlers’ organization, the Ministry of Defense official responsible for the settlements. He was also a director of the Keren Kayemet – Jewish National Fund – a major arm of the settlement enterprise. He entered the Knesset when Rehavam Ze’evi, the leader of the extreme-extreme Right, was assassinated by a Palestinian hit squad.

Turning this Ministry over to such a person means that most of its resources will go to a frantic expansion of the settlements, each of which is a nail in the coffin of peace. Yet Lapid supported this appointment with all his new-found political clout, as part of his “brotherhood” bond with Naftali Bennett, who is now the godfather of the settler movement.

Bennett’s party also gained the all-important Knesset finance committee, which is needed to funnel the funds to the settlements. It means that the settlers are now in complete control of the state.

Lapid’s election triumph may yet be revealed as the biggest disaster for Israel.

The brotherhood pact between Lapid and Bennett made it possible for them to blackmail poor Netanyahu and get (almost) everything they longed for. Except the Foreign Ministry.

How will Lapid turn out as Minister of Finance? Difficult to say. Since he is totally innocent of any economic knowledge or experience, he will have to depend on the Prime Minister above and the ministry bureaucracy below. Treasury officials are a tough lot, with a thoroughly neo-liberal outlook. Lapid himself also adheres to this creed, which is called by many Israelis “swinish capitalism” – a term invented by Shimon Peres.

ONE of Lapid’s main election promises was to put an end to the Old Politics, held responsible for all the ills and ugliness of our political life until now. Instead, he said, there will be the New Politics, an age of shining honesty and transparency, embodied by selfless and patriotic leaders, such as the members of his new party.

Not for nothing did he call his party There Is A Future.

Well, the Future has arrived, and it looks suspiciously like the Past. Indeed, the New Politics look very much like the Old Politics.

Very, very old. Even the ancient Romans are supposed to have said “To the victor, the spoils!” But then, Ya’ir Lapid doesn’t know Latin.


There’s A New Israeli Government, And Here’s Who’s in It
In the coalition:

By Maya Shwayder, International Business Times
March 15 2013

Just in time for Friday night, the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, and the impending Saturday deadline, Israel’s politicians finalized the next coalition government.

There will be 22 ministers in total, making this one of the smallest Israeli governments in recent history. The last government, also under Netanyahu, had 30 ministers, Jerusalem Post said. This also marks the first time recently that there are no Ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties in the government, which means chances are higher that the Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel may soon have to begin serving in the military, a requirement for every secular Israeli from which the religious are currently exempt.

Here’s who’s in and who’s out.
*Led by Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu alliance, which holds 31 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

*Yesh Atid (There Is A Future), led by Yair Lapid, with 19 seats.

*Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home), led by Naftali Bennett, with 12 seats.

*HaTnuah (The Movement), led by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, with six seats.

The Ministers:

*Agriculture and Rural Development: Yair Shamir, Yisrael Beiteinu.

*Communications: Unassigned.

*Culture and Sports: Limor Livnat, Likud or Uri Orbakh, Bayit Yehudi.

*Defense: Moshe Ya’alon, Likud. Ya’alon, who was Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Strategic Affairs in the last government, is the former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces.

*Economics and Trade: Nafatali Bennett, head of Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home).

*Education: Rabbi Shai Piron, Second-in-Command of Yesh Atid.

*Energy and Water: Uzi Landau, Yisrael Beiteinu.

*Environmental Protection: Amir Petez, Second in command of HaTnua.

*Finance: Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid.

*Foreign Affairs: Prime Minister Benjamin Netayahu himself will act as Foreign Minister, as the current minister, Avigdor Lieberman, is being charged with fraud, BBC reported.

*Health: Yael German, Yesh Atid.

*Home Front Defense: Silvan Shalom, Likud.

*Housing & Construction: Uri Ariel, Bayit Yehudi. Jewish Home is known for having a very pro-settler stance on development in the West Bank, so their control of the Housing ministry will likely signal even more settlement plans.

*Immigration: Sofa Landver, Yisrael Beiteinu.

*Information and Diaspora: Unassigned, will go to Bayit Yehudi.

*Interior: Run by Likud, likely will be Gideon Sa’ar, who held the position in the last government, but is currently at the center of a sex scandal.

*Justice: Tzipi Livni, head of small center-left HaTnua party. Livni is known to be a dove on the issue of the Palestinians and the two-state solutions, and claims to have gotten very far in her talks with the Palestinians during her time as Foreign Minister, but several reports have said that any and all deals with the Palestinian Authority will have to be routed through Netanyahu first.

*Public Security: Yitzhak Aharonovich, Yisrael Beiteinu.

*Science and Technology: Yaakov Peri, Yesh Atid.

*Strategic Affairs: Yuval Steinitz, Likud. Steinitz was Finance Minister in the last government. The Ministry of Strategic Affairs is specifically designed to deal with the perceived threat of a nuclear Iran.

*Transportation: Undetermined, but Jerusalem Post reports that Israel Katz of Likud will maintain his post as Minister of Transportation.

*Tourism: Uzi Landau, Yisrael Beiteinu, who also holds Energy and Water.

*Welfare and Social Services: Undetermined, will be held by Likud

In total, Likud-Beiteinu controls 11 ministries, Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi each hold four, and HaTnuah hold two.

Both Lapid and Bennett, the rising stars of the last election in January, were reportedly angling for a Deputy Prime Minister position, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided that he did not want any deputies in this government.

Outgoing Environmental Minister Gilad Erdan was offered the Energy and Water Ministry, Jerusalem Post said, a position with more political clout than the Environment Ministry, but turned down the offer.

In the opposition:

*Labor, led by Shelley Yacimovich, with 15 seats. Early in the negotiations, Yacimovich was offered a position in the coalition, but chose to turn it down, in favor of being the leading party in the opposition.

*Shas, an Ultra-Orthodox party, with 11 seats.

*United Torah Judaism, an Ultra-Orthodox party, with seven seats.

*Meretz, a left-wing Zionist party, with six seats.

*United Arab List – Ta’al, an Israeli Arab party, with four seats

*Hadash, an Arab socialist party, with four seats.

*Balad, an Israeli Arab party, with three seats.

*Kadima, former stronghold of the left wing, with two seats.

In total, the opposition holds 52 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.


Links
Enemy of peace and Palestine tipped to be Israel’s defence minister
Why Jewish Home is making a splash – although Bibi is home and dry

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