Parting shot: Up in smoke

In Israel, everything from traffic tickets to the price of tomatoes is up for negotiations.

April 23, 2015 20:50
Kulanu chief Moshe Kahlon speaks to voters during a campaign stop

Kulanu chief Moshe Kahlon speaks to voters during a campaign stop. (photo credit: FACEBOOK)

Did you ever wonder what it was actually like in those meetings taking place between the Likud and its potential coalition partners? When you think about it, what’s the big deal about handing out portfolios and forming a government? There should be a formula – you got 10 Knesset seats? You get two cabinet posts, two Knesset committees and a key to the special cabinet bathroom in the Prime Minister’s Office.

One or possibly two meetings with each party leader should suffice, and if those loquacious campaigners who claimed they would be servants for the public really meant it, there’s no reason why it should take longer than a week after the elections to announce the coalition.

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However, this is Israel, where everything from traffic tickets to the price of tomatoes is up for negotiations.

Given the snickers from senior officials that greeted the negotiating style – or apparent lack thereof – of the US and its Secretary of State John Kerry in the talks with Iran on curbing its nuclear aspirations, it’s safe to assume that the drawn-out coalition-building that’s well into its second month are part Middle East shuk one-upsmanship, part raucous va’ad bayit (building committee) meeting and part Big Brother reality show. 

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A new WikiLeaks document containing transcripts of the sessions has recently been unearthed and is presented here for the first time.

Kulanu’s Moshe Kahlon enters a smoke-filled room and finds Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his feet up on the desk, puffing on a freshly cut Havana special and staring at a map of Iran.

“Moishe, come in, grab a cigar!” Once they’re settled, with their yellow legal pads next to them, Bibi looks thoughtfully at Kahlon and continues, “I don’t really care about those other parties, my priority is to get Kulanu into the coalition. You’re our natural partner.”

“Well, you know what I want,” responds Kahlon through the smoke screen. “I was voted in to make housing affordable and I’ll only join the coalition if I’m given the tools to do that.”

They haggle for a few minutes and jot some notes down on their pads, until Netanyahu says, “Let’s meet again soon – but first we have 10 days off for Passover, and five days for Holocaust Day, Remembrance Day and Independence Day. I think I can fit you in sometime in early June.”

They begin to stand up, but Bibi stops and hands Kahlon a paper.

“Before you go, I want you to take an oath and sign this covenant. Now, repeat after me – It’s 1939 and Iran is Germany...” etc.

Kahlon complies and leaves the office, a little nauseous from the cigar and a little perplexed from the conversation. He bumps into Shas leader Arye Deri being ushered in.

“Ari’leh, we’re still meeting for breakfast tomorrow right?” asks Kahlon, grabbing Deri’s shoulder.

Deri smiles and winks, and says, “Of course, you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

Once inside, Netanyahu greets him and says, “Arye, I don’t really care about those other parties, my priority is to get Shas into the coalition.

You’re our natural partner” Deri responds, “I understand, Mr. Prime Minister. If there’s one thing I learned being in prison, it’s to keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”

Netanyahu takes the cigar from his mouth. “Wait, wasn’t that Don Corleone in The Godfather?” “I guess you didn’t know that Mario Puzo met Rav Ovadia before he wrote that book. Now, onto business, as long as I get the Interior Ministry, you can count on me.”

Bibi and Deri continue their negotiations, and before leaving, Deri swears on the map of Iran.

“Phew... any more meetings today”? Netanyahu asks an aide.

“Just one sir, ahem... remember? It’s not in the schedule.”

A few minutes after midnight, with only the moonlight paving the way, a shadowy figure in a trench coat makes his way into Netanyahu’s office.

“Hey Buji, good to see you! Any trouble getting here?” asks Bibi.

“No, I just had to shake off Tzipi.

She’s like a barnacle. I told her I was going square dancing,” answers Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, taking off his coat and taking the wrapped stogie from Netanyahu’s hand.

“Everything is going according to plan – they all think that they’re the linchpin to the coalition, even Bennett,” laughs Bibi. “He’s so easy to fool.”

They take out their yellow legal pads, and puffing away, start dividing the ministries among their parties, occasionally throwing a bone to one of the smaller partners.

When they finish, Herzog smiles and says, “Just remember, I’m going to deny that we ever met.”

“What, do you think I’m going to admit it?” responds Netanyahu.

“I just asked that clown Rivlin for an extension to put together the coalition – everyone thinks there are problems. If they know that we’ve already worked everything out, they’ll kill me.”

The WikiLeaks document ends there, just before the country marks Remembrance Day and its 67th Independence Day – a country in desperate need of leadership and inspiration.

It’s doubtful if we’re going to get either. Whatever configuration emerges, it will likely be another dysfunctional government, that like the previous one, will self-destruct amid infighting, ego and backroom price haggling.

It’s enough to make you want to sit back with a good cigar and laugh.

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