As acting FM, Netanyahu to meet disgruntled staffers

Ministry official says PM will be walking into a ministry badly demoralized by a sense that its functions are slowly being appropriated by other ministries.

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem 311 (R) (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem 311 (R)
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
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.
One ministry 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.
The 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 operation.
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 10m.
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 passports.
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.