While everyone watches and waits to see if the Foreign Ministry turns into a bargaining chip for the purpose of expanding the new coalition or securing Gilad Erdan's return to the ranks, it appears that one of the most senior positions in government is being stripped bare of all responsibility and powers.
In private conversations over the past few days, Interior Minister Silvan Shalom revealed that he had reached an agreement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under which he, Shalom, would act as de facto foreign minister.
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Close associates of the prime minister confirmed Monday that Netanyahu and Shalom had indeed come to an arrangement whereby the latter would assume responsibility for the talks with the Palestinian Authority (a position filled in the last government by then-justice minister Tzipi Livni) and the strategic dialogue between Israel and the US. Shalom will also coordinate Israel's dealings with the international community vis-à-vis the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.
Shalom will be tasked with trying to renew talks with the Palestinians in an effort to ward off potential confrontations at the International Criminal Court in The Hague and the UN Security Council. In the framework of this endeavor, he will work directly with the US administration, the European Union, the United Nations and the Mideast Quartet.
In the same private conversations, Shalom – a former foreign minister who is also the current government's most experienced cabinet member and holds the office of deputy prime minister as well – said that his appointment was designed to signal to the world that the prime minister was eager to renew negotiations with the Palestinians.
This surprising revelation is expected to not only deepen the rift between Netanyahu and Erdan, but also to create a problem for the prime minister insofar as Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely is concerned. According to Hotovely, her agreement with the prime minister puts her in charge of the Foreign Ministry, without a minister as her superior.
"The prime minister placed the Foreign Ministry in my hands as deputy foreign minister, without a minister and with all the powers that go with the position," she said on Monday. "For as long as no one tells me otherwise, I will work tirelessly to fulfill my position loyally in all areas in which the State of Israel is called on to act."
In Netanyahu's fourth government, no fewer than five ministers and one deputy minister will be dealing with diplomatic and defense affairs, and the Iranian issue first and foremost – Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon; Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz; Strategic Threats Minister Ze'ev Elkin; Energy and Infrastructure Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is also in charge of Israel's Atomic Energy Agency; and, as aforementioned, both Interior Minister Silvan Shalom and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.
In addition, sources close to Netanyahu said Monday that attorney Isaac Molho would continue to serve as the prime minister's special envoy to talks with the Palestinians.