Sharon's "unity government" is far from united. The unity
government of 10-15 years ago numbered close to 100 Knesset
members, while Sharon's government barely has 72 MKs. A
narrow coalition with about half an inch to spare. Even
Barak had 80 MKs in the coalition to start with, and his
government was not bulging at the seams like the present
Even if the collaboration between Labor and Likud has
granted the government the title of "Unity Government,"
Sharon has forgotten about the unity aspect. He has left 18
MK's who are traditionally closer to the Likud and have
supported it for many years--or it could be said, have
always supported it--out of the government.
The Knesset members referred to, of course, are the five MKs
from the National Religious Party, the five MKs from UTJ,
the five members of the Center Party which, following the
resignations of Savir and Shachak, has become a right-wing
party and an extension of the Likud, and the three MKs from
Gesher, headed by David Levy.
The Labor Party has tentatively scheduled the elections for
its party chairman for the 16th of Elul (September 4th).
Until then Sharon will have some peace and quiet from the
Labor Party and it will stay in. Afterwards, anything could
happen. A new chairman brought in would invariably want to
prove himself and to present himself as a viable alternative
in order to improve his chances of getting elected prime
minister in the next elections, and then, the chances that
he would bring about a crisis in order to pull his party out
of the government are quite good.
At exactly that point in the game Sharon would suddenly
remember that he needs those 18 Knesset members to ensure a
majority to maintain the government and to prevent
elections. Thus Sharon and the Likud are now committing a
grave error: leaving out 18 sure allies who took an active
role as loyal supporters of his election campaign is a
serious mistake for which Sharon will eventually pay the
Take Yahadut Hatorah (UTJ), for instance. All it asked for
was to receive an active ministry in addition to heading the
Finance Committee. At one point during the negotiations, the
idea of the Ministry for Social and Diaspora Affairs was
even suggested, but the Likud denied this portfolio as well,
maintaining that it had already been handed over to Melchior
in his capacity as deputy minister. Recent reports, however,
indicate that a way in may be found for UTJ after all.
The National Religious Party has also been left out, and all
the talk about the Likud making efforts to bring it into the
coalition and making proposals to Yitzhak Levy is
Who is Chairman?
Although the coalition has already set sail, it remains
without a captain. According to the coalition agreement, the
post should go to the Likud, which has two candidates vying
for the job: Zeev Boim and Michael Eitan, who occupied this
post during Netanhayu's government.
Eitan is Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's candidate. Last week,
when Sharon summoned Likud Knesset members to inform them
what each of them would receive, Michael Eitan was invited
When Eitan stepped into Sharon's office and Sharon began to
speak with him and to review the list of portfolios he had
to hand out, Eitan realized that he was not destined to be a
minister. Foregoing the niceties, he asked, "OK, so what is
the bottom line? What do you have to offer me?" Sharon
replied by proffering a post with which he is already
familiar, coalition chairman. As far as Eitan is concerned,
after having served as minister for a while during
Netanyahu's government, this represents a step backwards.
Let me think it over for a few days, Eitan told Sharon. No,
I need an answer right away, said the Prime Minister. But
Eitan was insistent. He knew he couldn't give an answer
until he had looked into his chances of election within his
party, since according to Likud (and Labor) regulations, a
secret ballot is held for such positions. Sharon had no
choice but to grant his request.
The next day Michael Eitan began paying attention to the
voices of opposition within the Likud against his
nomination, and realized that he was set to join the
outcasts--those who were left empty-handed, such as Matza
and Kara, or those who wanted to be ministers and were
appointed deputy ministers, such as Gidon Ezra, and would
now make Sharon pay.
Eitan is still in the running for the time being, but with
his well-honed political instincts, he will be told that he
is about to lose despite Sharon's support, Boim will be
proclaimed chairman without a contest and Sharon will score
his first internal loss.
From Pines to Pines With Love
Knesset members tend to be very fond of themselves, but the
degree of self-adulation seen last week reached new heights
and set an important precedent in the Knesset.
One Israel chairman Ophir Pines, who served as interim
chairman of the Finance Committee for several days, sent a
letter to none other than . . . Ophir Pines. From Ophir
Pines, chairman of One Israel, to Ophir Pines, chairman of
the Finance Committee!
According to regulations, when a party wants to exchange one
of its MKs from a given committee, the party chairman has to
notify the Knesset Committee chairman, who then gives notice
of the personnel exchanges made in the committees.
As party chairman, Pines wanted to exchange several One
Israel committee members. MKs such as Shalom Simchon and
Salach Tarif, who have joined the government, have abandoned
the committees on which they used to serve. On the other
hand, returning ministers such as Shlomo Ben Ami, Beige
Shochat and Chaim Ramon, had to be assigned to committees
with openings available.
So what could One Israel chairman, Ophir Pines, do to allow
Knesset Committee chairman, Ophir Pines, to complete the
exchange of committee members according to protocol? The
solution: to send himself a letter.
Pines, by the way, does not take the letter lightly, and
maintains that it is entirely serious. Knesset members who
heard about the letter dismissed it as Pines shenanigans.
Ilan Ghilon of Meretz, assuming the role of psychologist,
said that Pines must have been feeling lonely, and had no
choice other than to send himself a letter.
After assuming office, Education Minister Limor Livnat did
not wait a single day before notifying Director-General
Shlomit Amichai of her dismissal, and announcing her
intention to appoint a new director-general.
The task of director-general, like spokesman, aide, advisor,
driver and a series of other jobs, is considered a position
of loyalty to which the minister can, and perhaps must,
appoint colleagues who can be counted on to remain devoted
and faithful to the minister. Therefore, when a new minister
takes over, all those serving in positions requiring loyalty
are usually replaced.
Nevertheless, this practice involves considerable
heartbreak. In spite of the special circumstances, people's
livelihood is still at stake, along with the bread and
butter of families and children. True, those appointed to
this position have to take into account that one day they
might be required to clear out, for after all, politics is
the name of the game, but still, it is hard to deny that it
tears at the heartstrings.
National Infrastructures Minister Avidgor Liberman
demonstrated last week that he is a different breed of
This is how the story goes: Moshe Freedman served as
spokesman at the Ministry of National Infrastructures during
Barak's government. (He has also served as spokesman for the
Ministry of Religious Affairs and later as spokesman for the
Ministry of Housing.) He was brought to the post by Eli
Suissa, and remained there during the days of Beige Shochat,
who replaced Suissa after Shas pulled out of Barak's
On the day Sharon's government was installed, just hours
before the new ministers took over their new posts, Freedman
received notice from the ministry's deputy director of
staffing that he was to cease work the next morning.
Understandably, Freedman was already concerned over his
future livelihood and began to look around elsewhere for a
The next afternoon, as part of his responsibilities,
Freedman reported to the ministry for the ceremony in which
the new minister would be installed, with the knowledge that
it was to be his last day of work at the ministry. To his
great surprise, at the conclusion of the ceremony, the new
minister, Avigdor Liberman, motioned to him and they
conducted a brief meeting off to the side.
"I have heard that you received notice to leave the ministry
today," Liberman told him, "but I am notifying you that you
are staying. I don't throw people out into the street and
leave them without work. It could take a month or two, or
even more, to find something else, but until then, you're
staying here." Freedman was flabbergasted.
On the spot the new minister summoned the deputy director
who had sent the unemployment notice, and issued him new
directives. Freedman would remain.