ANALYSIS / How absurd can Netanyahu's government get?
Netanyahu proved he can outdo Barak and Sharon: a more bloated, more wasteful, more hedonistic cabinet.
Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition negotiations have rewarded us with many absurdities: Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister; Yisrael Beiteinu in charge of the Public Security Ministry; and the reverse somersault of Ehud Barak.
But we may not have witnessed the grand finale yet: If last night's prognoses become reality and we wake up this morning to a cabinet of 29 ministers and six deputy ministers (for parts of ministries and new ministries), we will know that this is not the dawn of a new day, and that nothing has changed.
What Barak and Ariel Sharon did before him, Netanyahu proved he can do more: more bloated, more wasteful, more hedonistic. Whatever the cost, so long as the lads are happy.
The Science Ministry was split off from the Culture and Sport Ministry. The Communications Ministry was broken into two parts: telecommunications and media.
Last night there was a rumor that the Education Ministry will also be split between "higher education" and the rest. Why not have a minister for kindergarten through sixth grade, and a minister for secondary school? The Education Ministry is known to destroy the careers of promising politicians (Yossi Sarid, Limor Livnat, Yuli Tamir), so this way it can destroy two careers at once.
In 1996 Netanyahu set up a slim government with only 18 ministers. He was always proud of that, and justifiably so. Because he insisted on the principle of an efficient and thrifty government, he was dragged into World War III with Silvan Shalom, who did not get a spot in that cabinet.
Thirteen years later Netanyahu is setting up a fat government with lots of ministries, and only one thing remains unchanged: the fight with Silvan.
Last night Netanyahu was determined not to appoint Shalom to the Finance Ministry, and not to make him Vice Premier.
He tried to find a "creative solution," which is a code word for a minister without portfolio but with a bombastic title and zero authority.
Shalom has already been in a similar situation, right before the Sharon government was formed in 2003. Back then Sharon agreed that Netanyahu would get the Foreign Ministry, and Olmert would be Finance Minister. Shalom was offered education. He turned it down. Several hours before he met with the MKs,
Sharon changed his mind: He decided to betray his loyal ally and appointed Shalom foreign minister. It is doubtful whether a similar turn of events will occur, not least because Netanyahu does not feel he owes Shalom anything.
However, one can never know what final considerations will tip the balance in Bibi's mind. Silvan as head of an internal Likud opposition is bad news.
Likud's 27 Knesset seats and Netanyahu's endless generosity to Lieberman and Barak have gotten Netanyahu into trouble with his starving party.
During the election campaign, Netanyahu prided himself on his three shining stars: Benny Begin, Dan Meridor and Bogey Ya'alon, the former chief of staff. The three were plastered on the Likud campaign poster. Could they all wind up as ministers without portfolio?
Is it possible that Yuval Steinitz, a close friend of Netanyahu and his wife Sarah, will make do with the Finance Ministry, a code word for upgraded deputy minister? Steinitz had wanted defense, and then public security.
Who will take Steinitz seriously as finance minister, when the real minister will be Netanyahu? The ministers will go to Netanyahu when they want money, and the Histadrut Chairman will talk about strikes with Bibi, and the big magnates will visit the prime minister. Not Steinitz. And this is really inconceivable.