Analysis || Israel's next cabinet: low-fat, but rife with inner problems
Dr. Yair Lapid didn’t put it on a diet, he performed gastric bypass surgery by pressuring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to dramatically lower the number of ministers.
Wednesday or Thursday, after the new cabinet ministers are sworn in in the Knesset and lean back in their new chairs in the plenum, there will be a picture we haven’t seen here for a decade and a half. We will see a low-fat, low-volume cabinet with only 21 ministers, compared to the 30 ministers in the outgoing government − which was a monument to hedonism, waste and considerations of survival.
Cutting a third in the number of cabinet ministers is a big thing. It is not just a diet. It is gastric bypass surgery.
You can relax − the incoming government will be no less efficient than its predecessor. But on the other hand, the internal problems the creator of the coalition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will have to deal with in the next few days inside his own embittered party will be even more difficult and pressing than in the past.
The size of the cabinet is not the most important thing for the existence and prosperity of the state. But in the world of images and symbols, which is what encompasses the political nutshell, size matters − boy does it matter. Yair Lapid ran an entire campaign calling for a cabinet of 18 ministers, the size of Netanyahu’s first cabinet in 1996 to 1999. Lapid scored an enormous victory for his image Monday, which joined his major achievement: Keeping the Haredim out of the coalition. Netanyahu gave in to Lapid a week ago on the matter of the Haredim, and surrendered to him again Monday on the number of ministers.
On the other hand, the prime minister can take comfort in the fact that the total number of Likud-Beiteinu ministers will be greater than those of Yesh Atid, Habayit Hayehudi and Hatnuah. He is keeping the controlling interest in the government in his hands, which gives him an automatic majority in every cabinet vote.
Generous on deputy ministers
The miserliness Lapid demonstrated over the number of ministers was replaced by the generosity on his part as to the number of deputy ministers: eight, no fewer. The same as in the outgoing government. What does Lapid care that at least five of the designated deputy ministers will be as useless as psoriasis and as effective as the plants in their offices? They don’t have a separate table in the front of the Knesset. They see and are not seen. Hidden from sight.
Netanyahu is expected to offer four of the deputy minister positions to his disappointed MKs: Tzipi Hotovely, Danny Danon, Zeev Elkin, Yariv Levin and Ofir Akunis. All, without exception, dreamed of a ministry. He promised them that if, for example, one of the ministers quit and went into the private sector, or found a comfortable embassy, those deputy ministers who behaved themselves and didn’t make trouble would skip a grade into the big leagues.
It is easy to understand Netanyahu’s distress: It is hard, very hard to remove a serving minister. This is not Britain. But nonetheless, he and the Likud would have benefited if we would have seen around the table − which will be packed with new faces from Lapid and Bennett’s parties − at least one new minister from the ruling party, man or woman, and not the same old, worn-out gang.
The continuing crisis over the fate of the Education Ministry portfolio is also supposed to be solved Tuesday. Until Monday, Netanyahu fought to leave the portfolio with the Likud. This is not only his personal commitment to current Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar − who is considered a popular and successful minister with a number of achievements; Lapid is also committed to his No. 2, Rabbi Shay Piron. But for Netanyahu, it is also his recognition that education is the only portfolio with moral value left to the Likud. Giving in on it, or on Sa’ar, will not be taken well by his party faithful.