Chaos and low confidence afflict Foreign Ministry

Only a couple of weeks ago, Israel’s diplomats were on cloud nine. After four years under Avigdor Lieberman, hardly the most desirable guest in most Western capitals, they believed that they were about to get the dream team — Yair Lapid as a new and presentable foreign minister, along with Tzipi Livni, unsuccessful in local politics but still the international media’s favourite Israeli statesman, as chief negotiator with the Palestinians. “Finally we will have someone to bring to Europe”, said one long-suffering envoy. But their hopes were dashed.

Mr Lieberman, who controls 11 of the Likud Beiteinu Knesset members, effectively holding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political fortunes in his hand, insisted that the Foreign Ministry be kept for him until his court case is over (if he is acquitted).

Mr Lapid was forced to accept the poisoned chalice of the finance ministry. Meanwhile, Mr Netanyahu will have little time to deal with the minutiae of Israel’s foreign relations. Various responsibilities such as the strategic relationship with the US, Israel’s ties with various international organisations and relations with the Jewish diaspora have been hived off to three other ministers, two with departments of their own to run and one, former Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who has received the new and yet to be defined title of Minister for International Relations.

If that wasn’t enough to erode the diplomats’ self-confidence, they have also received a new caretaker deputy minister to keep them in line. Zeev Elkin, the Likud whip in the last Knesset, may have started his political career as an MK of centrist Kadima but he is today on the far right of Likud. Mr Elkin, a resident of the settlement Kfar Eldad, was the author of the law limiting foreign funding for left-wing NGOs. He is resolutely against the establishment of a Palestinian state, has leaked information to hilltop settlers of imminent evictions and has stated that rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem is a “national mission”.

Since none of those views will go down well in the capitals of Europe, it is hard to see Israeli embassies urging him to come over and show the flag.

Last updated: 6:45pm, March 21 2013