Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu .
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
How long can this go on?
How long can the country of Israel with a population of 8.9 million and a state budget of NIS 397 billion continue to function like a banana republic? How long can it be paralyzed?
At issue is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who currently holds five portfolios: prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister, health minister, and immigration and absorption minister.
Three of these five jobs are the most important portfolios needed to run a country, and all of them are 24/7 jobs with endless meetings, consultations and decision-making that is not for the faint-hearted.
How can one man work all three?
The Foreign Ministry doesn’t have enough on its plate? There is not a daily need to address the challenges and changes occurring in every capital of the world?
The Defense Ministry doesn’t have enough on its plate? There is not an hourly need to address the situations on the Gaza and Lebanon borders?
The Prime Minister’s Office doesn’t have enough on its plate? There is not a need every single second to address the running, guiding and protecting of Israel?
If all that wasn’t enough on his plate, the prime minister also has to spend time with his lawyers going over the three criminal cases that are pending an indictment decision. How much time is there on an already full 24/7 schedule?
Then there are the two smaller ministries: immigration and absorption, and health. It is true that Ya’acov Litzman functions like the health minister while Netanyahu holds the title, but what about the immigration portfolio? There is no way for the prime minister/defense minister/foreign minister to address the authentic needs of a generation of immigrants, while constantly searching for ways to encourage more Jewish people to make aliyah.
A couple of weeks ago, Netanyahu said that he had received invitations to visit 40 countries, but that he couldn’t accept them because of the shaky 61-MK coalition, which requires him to be present in the Knesset to vote on every single motion. If there was a foreign minister, he or she would be able to travel the world, attend diplomatic meetings and help project Israel’s diplomatic power; all 40 would not have to fall on the prime minister’s shoulders.
There’s no arguing that Netanyahu deserves gratitude from all Israeli citizens for the ties that he has worked skillfully to cultivate in the Gulf and throughout Africa. His recent trip to Oman and the visit of the president of Chad to Jerusalem are just the latest examples. But at the same time, he cannot neglect diplomatic affairs as the head of a team of envoys making Israel’s case.
At their annual meeting in Jerusalem this week, these dedicated ambassadors – the face of Israel spread across the globe – complained how the Foreign Ministry has been gutted, with no budget, no direction and no leadership; and that they cannot deliver the country’s messages because they aren’t provided with the proper tools.
This is what happens when for three and a half years there has been no foreign minister – a slow erosion of clout, power and influence.
We don’t have a problem with Sara Netanyahu visiting Guatemala this week, but this should not be viewed as a replacement for official diplomats. The role of the prime minister’s spouse has never been set by law and until it is, diplomatic work should be done by diplomats.
This is not the way to run a democracy.
This is not the first time that Netanyahu has held five portfolios. After forming his coalition in May 2015, he was prime minister, foreign minister, health minister, communications minister and regional cooperation minister. This is unsustainable. There are five parties sitting in this government. There are certainly members of the 61-MK coalition who could take over even one of the ministries.
It is understandable that sudden political developments forced this upon Netanyahu, when his defense minister quit and left him with the keys. But that was 28 days ago.
Netanyahu has repeatedly said that he intends to get rid of some of the portfolios that he currently holds, and appoint a full-time foreign minister. Now would be an excellent time.
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