26 May 2015, NYT: Netanyahu Appoints Hawkish Ally to Run Foreign Ministry
OCT. 27, 2015
Netanyahu Quiets Deputy Who Said She Dreamed of Israeli Flag Over Jerusalem Holy Site
By JODI RUDOREN
JERUSALEM -- Israel's deputy foreign minister could hardly have contradicted her boss more directly -- or at a tenser time.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's repeated insistence that Israel had not and would not change anything at an Old City holy site was endorsed over the weekend by the United States and Jordan, which administers the contested Jerusalem complex that is at the center of this month's violent Palestinian uprising.
Then the deputy minister, Tzipi Hotovely -- an archconservative member of Mr. Netanyahu's Likud Party -- told an Israeli interviewer on Monday, "It is my dream to see the Israeli flag" flying there. 
On her boss's orders, Ms. Hotovely issued an unusual announcement near midnight clarifying that "my personal opinions are not government policy." But her outburst was just the latest in a series of provocative statements and pilgrimages to the holy site by Israeli politicians aligned with Mr. Netanyahu that Palestinian leaders claim is evidence of Israel's true intentions.
"That's actually not only what she believes in, but what we believe this Israeli government believes in," Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee, said in an interview Tuesday.
"She's just crude enough to say it," Ms. Ashrawi added. "Even if it's her personal opinion, this is a very alarming position from someone who has an official post."
Israeli politics have never been known for message discipline, and in the current heated environment, Mr. Netanyahu -- who serves as his own foreign minister -- is under fire for failing to control his governing coalition. Many Israeli analysts say that his prohibition this month on Parliament members visiting the site, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, came too late.
"Hotovely is not to blame -- the person who appointed her is to blame," Ben Caspit, an Israeli columnist, wrote Tuesday under the headline "Flamethrower and Gasoline Diplomacy."  Yoel Hasson, an opposition member of Parliament, called Ms. Hotovely "the poster girl for disgraceful irresponsibility" and demanded that Mr. Netanyahu dismiss her immediately.
The controversy highlighted the constraints under which Mr. Netanyahu operates, having constructed a coalition with the slimmest possible parliamentary majority and with many members who are to his right on the political spectrum. Several polls show that the stabbing attacks by Palestinians against Israeli Jews, and the Israeli security crackdown, have only weakened the prime minister's position, with more than 70 percent of the public dissatisfied  with his performance in the crisis and growing numbers who would prefer a harder-line rival, Avigdor Lieberman  (a former foreign minister who frequently diverged from the party).
"Now he has to sanction them, but maybe it's difficult to sanction when you have 61 members in Parliament, when you depend on every vote," said Shmuel Sandler, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University. "I think he has to show leadership here, especially in times like this."
The prime minister's office issued a statement late Monday night saying that "nothing has changed" in Israel's policy for the site and that Mr. Netanyahu had "made it clear that he expects all members of the government to act accordingly."
A senior official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate political situation, said another deputy minister, Eli Ben Dahan, was scolded by Mr. Netanyahu on Tuesday for supporting Ms. Hotovely's statements in a radio interview.
"The prime minister is very firm about this: Government policy is clear, and ministers and deputy ministers cannot speak and contradict government policy," the official said. "The prime minister can demand that they either conform to government policy or resign. He has spoken to relevant people to make sure they understand that."
Mr. Netanyahu spent much of Monday distancing himself from other members of his coalition. He twice said that, unlike a Parliament member from the ultranationalist Jewish Home party, he does not think that the state's Supreme Court justices "act on behalf of Israel's enemies." And when an Orthodox lawmaker likened Women of the Wall, an Israeli group that agitates for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, to the Murabitat, a group of Palestinian women who harass Jewish visitors  to the Old City compound, Mr. Netanyahu quickly said, "There is no comparison."
If this all seems like a headache that an unpopular leader does not need amid a spate of deadly attacks and protests, some Israeli analysts see an upside for Mr. Netanyahu.
"He becomes the responsible adult -- he is saying, I know you think I'm right wing, I know you think I'm radical, but these people are much worse," said Gadi Wolfsfeld, a professor of political communication at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. "It serves both sides. It serves Netanyahu's side to tell the world that if you don't depend on him, you have the other crazies coming in, and it serves the crazies, because when they say what they say, all their constituents stand up and applaud."
Tamar Hermann, a professor of political science at Israel's Open University, said statements like Ms. Hotovely's were par for the course in a free-for-all political system, where "there are always some naughty pupils in class."
"It's very difficult to see for an American; your cabinet in most cases speaks in one voice, because this is the president's cabinet," she said. "This is not the case in Israel. It's not the prime minister's cabinet. It is a collection of parties and sometimes individuals," and "certain deviations" from the government line are "highly expected."
Ms. Hotovely, 36, who was first elected to Parliament in 2009, has regularly been treading in hot water since her appointment in May. 
Her opening speech to Foreign Ministry appointees suggested that they invoke the Talmud to buttress arguments for Israeli sovereignty over the occupied West Bank. More recently, she violated United Nations protocol by interrupting Jordan's foreign minister several times, the Israeli news media reported. She was also called out by Mr. Netanyahu's aides for telling European diplomats -- who reported her comment to Washington -- that the government would never evacuate West Bank settlements.
By Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Hotovely had canceled a long-scheduled briefing for international journalists, citing "unforeseen circumstances."
The circumstances were that Mr. Netanyahu had made clear that she could lose her title if she did not stop spouting off. Two officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the internal workings of the government, said Ms. Hotovely now needed "explicit authorization" from the prime minister to talk to any journalist.
Through the Foreign Ministry spokesman, she declined to be interviewed for this article.