Member of the 19th Knesset
The following is a word-for-word translation of a promise Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made during the recent election campaign in the presence of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat:
“I want to declare here that in the next term, if, as I hope, I will put together the government, I will keep the Jerusalem portfolio in the Prime Minister’s Office, under my leadership and with tight cooperation with you Mayor Nir Barkat so that we can continue the development of Jerusalem, this is my promise to the residents of Jerusalem.”
Well, so much for that promise.
The Prime Minister gave away control of Jerusalem Affairs this week by placing the ministry in the hands of Immigration and Absorption Minister Zev Elkin.
Readers from Jerusalem who voted for Netanyahu will likely cut the Prime Minister some slack, suggesting that there was a strategic, issue-based reason for him to break this promise. They might also argue that Minister Elkin is actually the best person suited for the job, or that maybe it’s best for Jerusalem Affairs to be under the control of the Immigration and Absorption Minister.
Alas, none of these explanations or theories come close to the truth. Please brace yourselves for the real facts:
In order to please Likud ministers — and not out of any security concerns or improved governance — the Prime Minister divided up numerous ministries while forming Israel’s 34th government. He gave the Intelligence portfolio to Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz; the Strategic Affairs portfolio to Immigration and Absorption Minister Zev Elkin; Iranian Affairs to Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz; and responsibility for negotiations with the Palestinians and dialogue with the United States government to Interior Minister Silvan Shalom.
Likud MK Gilad Erdan, who won the top slot in the Likud primaries after the Prime Minister (who chairs the party), chose not to join the government. Erdan was seeking a position of influence, and the limited Internal Security Portfolio which the Prime Minister initially offered him was not a position in which he felt he could make a significant difference. So the Prime Minister sweetened the deal. He suddenly found hundreds of millions of shekels to add to the ministry in order to enable Minister Erdan to be more effective in his role, and also gave Erdan the Strategic Affairs ministry. (Unrelated question: Had Erdan not accepted the deal, would those funds not have gone to that critical ministry?)
This enraged Minister Elkin, who had first been given both the Strategic Affairs and Immigration and Absorption portfolios. Elkin demanded that the Prime Minister give him something to make up for the lost ministry, since, in his opinion, holding the Immigration and Absorption portfolio alone did not befit a person of his stature.
The Prime Minister heeded this demand and gave him Jerusalem Affairs – thereby breaking a clear campaign promise – simply to pacify Zev Elkin’s ego.
You may perhaps think that I, as a member of an opposition party, am being unfairly harsh on the Prime Minister, and must be hiding something in this story. Here is the reaction from Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, himself:
“The decision to form the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry anew was made against my wishes and contradicts the prime minister’s promise…that the Prime Minister’s Office would be in charge of advancing Jerusalem in partnership with the mayor’s office. Jerusalem is not a consolation prize for anyone. It would be unfortunate if narrow political considerations result in public funds being wasted on unnecessary bureaucracy that will make it harder for the government and city to advance Jerusalem together.”
“Unfortunate,” but this is the reality unfolding before our eyes. We see one Netanyahu before elections, and then a different Netanyahu after elections. I recently asked a high-ranking Likud official if Netanyahu seriously wants to bring Herzog into his government. Without hesitation he replied, “Well, during the campaign he promised that he wouldn’t do this, so we can assume that he plans to do it.”
The issue of broken promises is not limited to the Jerusalem Affairs ministry. It is a concern regarding almost every single issue, and it will be a painful process — mostly for Likud voters — as we watch campaign promise after promise unravel. For example, many were surprised to learn that just last week the Prime Minister — who won re-election on the basis of his strong right-wing declarations — told the foreign policy chief of the European Union that he was willing to reach an understanding with the Palestinians that would involve Israeli territorial concessions in the West Bank. Let us watch and see if the campaign promises regarding lowering housing and living costs will also fall to the side when this Prime Minister doesn’t permit his ministers to enact true reforms, as we have seen time after time in the past.
We can only hope that the national damage will be limited, and that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pattern of breaking his campaign promises will be clearly exposed and understood by the masses once and for all.