Today cabinet ministers will struggle for hours against the cuts to their ministries, raise their voices, fume at and defame treasury officials. But in the hallway outside the meeting, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz will sit quietly eating burekas.
The noise and confusion pass him by, for he has a special status when it comes to the budget. He does not wrangle as others do for a bigger piece of pie. That's for the education or welfare ministers, not Minister Mofaz. The ministers, submissive as ever, will not ask if the time has not come to cut deeply into the defense budget to prevent cuts in funding for social issues.
After the vote, after the ministers have been cut down, the prime minister will sit with Mofaz - perhaps with Netanyahu too - and there, in a back room, Ariel Sharon will decide on the size of the cut to the defense budget.
In this context, one can only be angered by Mofaz's "social concerns," with his slogans on the dangers of increased poverty. "You are experts at hurting the weak," Mofaz pontificated to Netanyahu last week with tears in his eyes.
But so good is his heart that he is demanding an additional NIS 1.5 billion on the defense budget that will come at the expense of the weak and poor, of education, health and welfare. The demand for a increased defense budget is particularly galling, given Israel's improved strategic situation. This is indeed the right time to cut the defense budget, and prevent serious blows to society.
The Histadrut has already declared a labor dispute, and the treasury will have to negotiate to reach a deal. Then the treasury will have to cross the wide river of the coalition parties and the MKs, who will try to get more of the edicts annuled.
This is where the general reserve, about a billion shekels, may be wiped out. Sometimes this is not enough and the treasury has to cut even deeper so as not to break the budget framework. Economy is not alchemy. Nothing comes from nowhere.
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