Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to hear an earful of complaints
Wednesday when he meets with the Foreign Ministry’s senior staff for the first
time since becoming acting foreign minister.
While Netanyahu, according
to government officials, is in constant contact with Deputy Foreign Minister
Ze’ev Elkin and ministry director-general Rafi Barak, this will be his first
meeting with the ministry’s various heads of department.
official said Netanyahu would be walking into a ministry badly demoralized by a
sense that its functions were slowly being appropriated by other ministers and
ministries, severe budgetary constraints, and an ongoing labor dispute that has
negatively been affecting the ministry’s everyday functioning.
biggest source of frustration is the newly formed International Relations
Ministry, headed by Yuval Steinitz, which the official said was chipping away at
duties the Foreign Ministry traditionally carried out, such as the strategic
dialogue with the US.
The Foreign Ministry has said it will not cooperate
with Steinitz or his ministry.
However, that issue is not the only source
of Foreign Ministry frustration. One official said that former foreign ministers
Silvan Shalom, who now heads the Regional Cooperation Ministry, and Justice
Minister Tzipi Livni, who has been charged with heading negotiations with the
Palestinians, are also taking bites out of the ministry’s traditional spheres of
In addition, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett has
taken on responsibility for Diaspora affairs, another area traditionally in the
Foreign Ministry’s purview.
Regarding budget, Netanyahu is likely to hear
frustration that the ministry – which spends some 80 percent of its budget on
“set operating expenses,” including the costs of embassies and consulates abroad
– is left at the end of the day with about NIS 200 million for programs. For
instance, its entire hasbara (public diplomacy) budget stands at about NIS
In addition, the workers launched a labor dispute a few months ago
over work conditions, political appointments to plum foreign service jobs
abroad, and the less-than transparent way in which appointments to missions
abroad are made. As part of the sanctions the workers have put in place, they
have put a limit on diplomatic cables, stopped dealing with the logistics
involved in arranging new political appointees abroad or extending the terms of
those whose tenures are expiring, and stopped issuing diplomatic
One thing that is not unduly troubling the workers, one
official said, is that there is currently no foreign minister. He said that
Elkin had left a positive impression and shown a healthy willingness to consult,
learn and listen.
Netanyahu is filling in as foreign minister until after
Avigdor Liberman’s trial, when it will be determined whether Liberman will be
able to return to that post.