Calling a truce
Once rivals, Silvan Shalom and PM Netanyahu are closing ranks to face the country’s challenges.
Silvan Shalom and Netanyahu at cabinet meeting Photo: REUTERS
Only three years ago, it took an Oscar-nominated Hollywood producer to get Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his longtime Likud nemesis Silvan Shalom just to
coexist together in the same cabinet.
Now could Shalom be Netanyahu’s
best supporting actor in a drama with a happy ending? Netanyahu and Shalom had
sparred bitterly for years.
Shalom ran against Netanyahu for Likud leader
in 2005 and twice after that, Netanyahu advanced the party’s primary to prevent
Shalom from running.
The two have not minced words in publicly condemning
The crisis in their relations reached its peak in March 2009
when Netanyahu broke a sworn promise to Shalom to give him the Likud’s highest
portfolio when he formed his government.
Netanyahu decided instead to
make his trusted confidant Yuval Steinitz finance minister and Shalom minister
of regional cooperation in an increasingly uncooperative region.
efforts by several mediators who went back and forth between the nearby Knesset
offices of Shalom and Netanyahu, Shalom refused to accept a ministerial
appointment. Netanyahu started worrying that he would not complete the formation
of his government by his self-set deadline of March 31 at 11:59
Netanyahu knew it would be foolish to appoint his government on April
So he summoned an internationally respected mediator whom he and
Shalom equally trusted: Israeli-born producer Arnon Milchan.
The man who
produced such hits as Pretty Woman, L.A. Confidential, and Mr.
Smith – the film where future couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie shot at each
other – found a way to make Netanyahu and Shalom drop their guns.
the vice premier title he was given, Shalom symbolically fills in for Netanyahu
on half the prime minister’s trips abroad. And while Moshe Ya’alon has the same
title, Shalom sits to Netanyahu’s right in cabinet meetings in the seat
traditionally reserved for the government’s number two man.
received President Shimon Peres’s former Negev and Galilee Development Ministry,
which the Beersheba-raised minister has used to advance key projects in the
periphery, far from the center of the country but close to his heart.
Netanyahu did not honor a central clause in the deal: He has not allowed Shalom
to be part of the powerful inner security cabinet. Shalom, in turn, has not been
silent or submissive.
When Netanyahu came out in favor of a Palestinian
state at Bar-Ilan University in June 2009, Shalom said the prime minister’s
concessions would not lead to negotiations with the Palestinians, who he said
would only make more demands.
Shalom’s prediction came true when the
Palestinians demanded a complete settlement freeze in the West Bank. When
Netanyahu caved into pressure from US President Barack Obama and initiated a 10-
month moratorium, Shalom warned that the freeze would set a bad precedent and
predicted correctly that it would not result in negotiations.
recently, Shalom went against Netanyahu from the Right again, opposing
dismantling the Migron and Ulpana outposts until deals were reached between the
settlers and the state.
The relationship between the two rivals started
changing on September 2, when Shalom came to Jerusalem for a meeting with top
Jerusalem Post editors and writers. Netanyahu invited him via a mutual friend to
a fateful meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office later that same
Netanyahu and Shalom spoke heart to heart at the meeting about their
past, their present, and their future. The prime minister made clear that he
needed Shalom to help him appeal to the Likud’s traditional voters in the
periphery in a general election that could take place in an atmosphere of
economic austerity measures and cutbacks.
The day after the meeting,
Shalom hosted a pre- Rosh Hashana toast in Or Yehuda attended by more than 1,000
Likud activists. Shalom’s speech at the event was so blatantly pro-Netanyahu
that Likud central committee members said they nearly choked on their apples and
Netanyahu heard about the speech, and raised eyebrows by hugging
Shalom at a meeting of ministers a few days later.
In the speech, Shalom
praised Netanyahu for putting preventing Iran’s nuclearization on the
international agenda. He denied repeated reports about tension between Netanyahu
and Obama in Yediot Aharonot, the newspaper owned by the family of his wife,
socialite and talk show host Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes.
“I wake up every
morning and read the newspaper, and it makes me think a war has broken out – not
with Iran, Syria, Egypt or the Palestinians but with the United States,” Shalom
said mockingly in the speech.
“I want you to know that our relations with
US are warm, friendly, intimate, and close. We have to appreciate the efforts of
the prime minister to prevent Iran from strengthening itself with nuclear
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post this month, Shalom
declined to comment about the meeting with Netanyahu but said he believed it was
important to unify the ranks of the Likud due to potential challenges ahead. He
said he would do everything possible to make sure the 27 MKs in the faction
unite behind Netanyahu no matter what decisions get made on Iran.
tough times, unity matters,” he said.
Shalom said the only real dispute
between Israel and the US on Iran was about the timetable for steps to prevent
Iran’s nuclearization. While Israel thinks there is a need to act urgently and
immediately, the US thinks there is more time.
When asked about reports
of personal problems between Netanyahu and Obama, Shalom said he would not say
anything that could be perceived as interfering in the upcoming US
“The American people have a decision to make and just like we
don’t want them to interfere with us, we shouldn’t interfere with them,” Shalom
said. “Support for Israel is bipartisan – it was, is, and always will
Shalom supported Netanyahu’s effort to persuade the world to give
He predicted the US would not take any action against
Iran before the election but he said that after the election, he would not be
surprised if America got more involved in Iran, no matter who would win the
The vice premier said the key to preventing Iran’s nuclearization
via nonmilitary means was persuading the world to put stifling sanctions on
Iran’s central bank.
“I think sanctions can work like they did in South
Africa and Libya,” he said. “In Iran, the economic situation is very bad and the
devaluation of the currency has made it worse. The latest sanctions helped but
didn’t convince Iran to stop the nuclear program.
Iran’s leaders think
the nuclear program keeps the regime in power. We need to change that attitude
180 degrees and make them realize their nuclear pursuit puts their regime in
Shalom complained Russia and China have harmed the effort to
prevent Iran’s nuclearization for their countries’ own geopolitical
He said that two years ago, China and Iran signed one of the
biggest contracts in history of NIS 30 billion for 25 years of oil and
“The Russians and Chinese are afraid that the Middle East will fall
entirely under American influence and the US would use that against them,”
Shalom said. “Russia is afraid that if Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria falls,
both Syria and Lebanon will be in American hands.”
Having a former
foreign minister like Shalom available to defend Netanyahu’s diplomatic agenda
could help the prime minister in the geopolitical arena and in internal Israeli
An alliance between the two former rivals could also enable the
advancement of key issues that they agree on but Netanyahu could not push
because they were identified with Shalom.
The best example of that is
Shalom’s proposal to initiate a five-day workweek in Israel by making every
Sunday a day off like in the United States and the rest of the Western
Netanyahu appointed National Economic Council chairman Eugene
Kandel to head a committee to investigate the idea in July 2011.
committee was supposed to release its findings in October 2011, but it has
dragged its feet and delayed its deadline twice. Now Kandel’s associates are
talking about publishing them “immediately after the holidays” end in October
Shalom sounded worried when he spoke to the Post that Kandel’s
committee was about to publish a report rejecting giving Sundays off. Since
then, Shalom had an important phone conversation with Kandel that will continue
in person after Rosh Hashana.
He told the editors and reporters that he
believed Netanyahu was “100 percent behind the proposal” and that “he wants to
support it in his heart.”
He said that before his meeting with Netanyahu,
which left him further encouraged.
A green light from Netanyahu to Kandel
could result in the government adopting Shalom’s proposal and starting the
process of shortening the work week.
“Progress has been made,” Shalom
said. “Now I think [my effort] to promote a longer weekend can continue in a
So it is possible that the new relaxed relationship
between Netanyahu and Shalom could result in Israelis getting more relaxation
time. And a story of a bitter political rivalry that once required the
intervention of a producer from Los Angeles could have a Hollywood- style happy