Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Next foreign minister will have his work cut out


The Foreign Affairs Ministry, which has been under Netanyahu's leadership since May 2015, has a NIS 330 million budget deficit; 'Netanyahu shattered the ministry. Whoever takes the job needs to condition the appointment on a commitment for funding, otherwise he would have a hard time functioning,' says ministry official.

It is unclear yet who Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to appoint as the next minister of foreign affairs, but what is clear is that this minister would have his work cut out for him, as he will inherit a paralyzed ministry with a NIS 330 million budget deficit.

The prime minister is expected to announce his choice of minister in the coming days, after having held the foreign affairs portfolio since the establishment of the current government in May 2015. Among the candidates are Yisrael Katz, Yuval Steinitz, Tzachi HaNegbi or Yariv Levin—all Likud members who currently hold ministerial positions. Whoever that may be, it still remains to be seen whether they would receive a temporary three-month appointment or a permanent position until the government finishes its term in November 2019.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry's budget suffered a NIS 12 million cut in recent government-wide cuts. Over the past two years, the ministry's budget was cut five times.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky)
Because of the massive budget deficit, the ministry won't have the funds to bring delegations of foreign journalists or policymakers to Israel, organize conferences, hold Independence Day celebrations around the world, bring VIPs to Israel on official visits, send Israeli diplomats on missions abroad, carry out public diplomacy [JB emphasis], provide medical assistance and supplies to disaster-struck areas, renovate ambassadors' homes, or hire outside consultants.

In January, all activities of the Foreign Affairs Ministry will be put on hold. The ministry won't be able to open its cadet course to train and prepare diplomats for careers in the Israeli foreign service, while the Agency for International Development Cooperation will not be able to open most of its courses in Israel and abroad, while the number of experts Israel sends abroad will be reduced significantly.

If that's not enough, the Foreign Affairs Ministry has announced it would stop providing services abroad to government ministries, and conditioned any service it does provide in a "commission" of 12 percent of the expense. In turn, the Finance Ministry wishes to fine the Foreign Affairs Ministry, claiming it was trying to secure a source of income.

In addition to the ministry's operations, inflexible expenses were also affected by the budgetary deficit, including rents on office spaces, contracts with suppliers, car leasings, and more.

"Netanyahu shattered the Foreign Affairs Ministry, and now he's passing it on to someone else. Whoever takes the job needs to condition the appointment on a commitment for funding, because he would have a hard time functioning (otherwise)," said a ministry official.

Last week, MKs at the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee asked Netanyahu about the crisis in the Foreign Affairs Ministry and its inability to function due to the budget deficit.

The prime minister was surprised by the question and asked the Foreign Affairs Ministry's director-general, Yuval Rotem, whether it was true. When Rotem, who was sitting next to Netanyahu, nodded in confirmation, the prime minister appeared surprised.

A year ago, during a conference of Israeli ambassadors, Israel's Ambassador to Cameroon Ran Gidor asked Netanyahu how he was supposed to function with a budget of only $15,000. The prime minister responded: "You're a genius; you can do it without money." He then turned to Director-General Rotem and told him "Yuval, take care of this." Gidor received an additional $500 to his budget.

Netanyahu has also made  the Foreign Affairs Ministry redundant. The secret talks with Muslim countries that don't have diplomatic ties with Israel are done through the Mossad or the National Security Council. The Mossad organized Netanyahu's visit to Oman, while the invitation of the Chadian president to Israel was done by National Security Advisor Meir Ben Shabat.

פרסום ראשון: 11.27.18, 16:00 

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