On January 19, the cabinet secretariat heralded the government's decision "to adopt the principles of action included in the recommendations of the interministerial committee on streamlining the public sector." Then came the details: The number of government ministries would be limited to 18; there would be no more than four deputy ministers; departments would be transferred from one ministry to another.
In addition, the cabinet secretariat announced that the interministerial committee had also been instructed "to continue its work concerning other matters pertaining to the streamlining of the public sector" (the infelicitous phrasing courtesy of the formulators of the cabinet's official announcements).
Six weeks later, Ariel Sharon presented his new cabinet and it emerged that it exhibits not a remnant of the festive announcement about the reform in the structure of the government ministries: not 18 ministers, but 24; not four deputy ministers, but six; and to top it all, government departments have been transferred from one ministry to another in complete contradiction to administrative logic and the cabinet's decisions from a month-and-a-half ago.
So, the Israel Lands Administration has wandered over from the Prime Minister's Office to the Industry and Trade Ministry; the Prime Minister's Office has given the Government Companies Authority back to the Finance Ministry; the Planning Authority has moved to the Industry and Trade Ministry (after moving just a month-and-a-half earlier from the Interior Ministry to the PMO); and the Israel Broadcasting Authority has also found a new home - the bureau of Minister Ehud Olmert.
The Tourism and Science ministries have also remained intact, contrary to the recommendations of the efficiency committee.
The above maneuvering comes to demonstrate Sharon's modus operandi: His regard for words is different from that of the man in the street; for Sharon words are weapons - purposeful means of achieving an objective; they have no internal truth and their accepted meaning is utterly insignificant.
With such a modus operandi, Sharon certainly has no reason to feel shame when it emerges that he is not standing behind his words.
Thus, he can face State Comptroller Justice Eliezer Goldberg and say he had nothing whatsoever to do with the financial matters at his headquarters at the time of the internal Likud leadership election campaign (in 1999), while the comptroller sits there with a check in his briefcase written and signed by the prime minister.
Thus, he was able to declare in the Knesset that he will uphold the legacy of slain minister Rehavam Ze'evi to hold on to the historical Land of Israel; and then, just week later, that he "is ready for painful concessions."
Thus, Amram Mitzna heard from him last Monday that he is willing to evacuate settlements, and then on Friday, just how much he admires the settlers and how much he believes that one cannot rely on the word of the Arabs.
Because for Sharon, words are conjecture.
And this is how one must judge the basic guidelines of the government and the coalition agreements. From the outset, Sharon refrained from including in them an explicit willingness to accept the establishment of a Palestinian state. Instead, he made do with a mention (in parenthesis) of his speech at the Herzliya Conference (at which he announced that Israel would allow for the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state in Areas A and B, "apart from vital security zones"), subject to cabinet approval.
Moreover, in his agreements with National Union and the National Religious Party, he included letters of clarification that almost completely strip his statements at the Herzliya Conference of any significance. And if that wasn't enough, Sharon allowed the coalition agreement to include appendices in which National Union and the NRP unequivocally declare that they will do all in their power to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.
One can console oneself with the understanding that Sharon's words cannot be taken at face value, and therefore, just as the manifesto of his government appears to be a declaration of intentions to undermine an acceptable settlement with the Palestinians, so does the potential for a turnaround in his positions seem unlikely.
The potential does indeed exist, but his political decision reflects his order of priorities: He chose to form a coalition with Avigdor Lieberman and Effi Eitam, and not with Amram Mitzna; and such a choice is a very trustworthy signal for deciphering his intentions.
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