When it became clear last December that he was about to be indicted on corruption charges, Avigdor Leiberman resigned as Israel’s Foreign Minister. He did not quite resign from wielding influence, however.
Indeed, having since held elections and formed a new government, Prime Minister Netanyahu is essentially retaining the Foreign Ministry for its former occupant, at least until the trial is completed; Lieberman himself is expected to testify in two weeks. In the meantime, the Foreign Ministry essentially stands bereft.
Mind you, Netanyahu did name a Deputy Foreign Minister: the ultra right-wing Ze’ev Elkin, an MK with no diplomatic credentials who boasts a strikingly anti-democratic voting record, and who said this past January that
We will try to apply sovereignty over the maximum [of the West Bank] that we can at any given moment. It will take time to change people’s awareness but in the end this will penetrate. And then, what seems today like a fairy tale will eventually become political reality, and the reality on the ground.
So the Foreign Ministry does have the anti-democratic, fairy tale guy (who, coincidentally, doesn’t speak English) at its disposal; Elkin met with the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan just the other day.
And there’s also Yuval Steinitz. Steinitz currently holds the “International Affairs” portfolio, and may be given the real Foreign Relations post if Lieberman is convicted. According to veteran Israeli political scientist and commentator Shlomo Avineri, Steinitz’s office is “a kind of second Foreign Ministry, but without the staff or the means,” and though many visiting diplomats have been referred to him,
this scandalous situation has already drawn expressions of displeasure from world leaders. Not only that—it has led a European foreign minister, a known friend of Israel, to cancel his visit.
So Israel also has the Foreign Affairs-Lite guy, who no one really wants to see (the diplomat who went so far as to actually cancel was Belgium’s Foreign Minister).
Then there’s this odd little chestnut:
The Samaria (Shomron) Regional Authority [local council of the northern West Bank settlements] has even established its own quasi-”foreign ministry,” which circumvents the official one. The Authority carries out its own independent contacts with foreign diplomats, and brings some of them to Samaria for tours.
Finally, Netanyahu is officially the acting Foreign Minister, but he’s too busy to be involved with much beyond visits from the likes of Hagel, Kerry, and Obama (hence the Belgian snub), and maybe-possibly sorting out the mess with Turkey at Obama’s behest.
But while reasonable people might reasonably describe this situation as “scandalous,” it is also strangely appropriate.
The Real Foreign Minister awaits trial and expects his country to await him, consequences be damned; his deputy doesn’t like freedom of speech and can’t speak English; the country’s Shadow-and-Wannabe-Foreign-Minister is working out of what amounts to a makeshift office and annoying people in the process; the settlers are disregarding the government entirely; and Netanyahu is pretty much focused on keeping the US government on his side (a goal he once said is an easy one to achieve).
This in a country which has in recent years seen a former Prime Minister, a President, a Justice Minister, and a collection of other government officials indicted and/or convicted for various kinds of malfeasance; a country run by people who have often seemed exceptionally tone-deaf to English-speaking supporters and exceptionally eager to stifle democracy; a country led by a government that continuously irritates and annoys its closest allies (also seemingly on purpose), its political scene wholly dominated by the settler movement and headed by a Prime Minister who says he wants better relations with his country’s nearest neighbors but doesn’t actually do much to achieve that end.
This might not be the image that Israel wants to project. It might not reflect what I love about Israel.
But the current state of Israel’s foreign affairs is pretty representative of the Jewish State circa 2013, whether any of us likes it or not. And that’s the Israel with which the rest of the world actually has to do business.