Analysis / A Government of Rookies

Many people will be rubbing their eyes in disbelief when the Olmert government is sworn in Thursday. Among them will be Benjamin Netanyahu, the opposition head who could have been in Olmert's prime ministerial seat if only Netanyahu weren't Netanyahu. Then there are incoming interior minister Roni Bar-On and incoming immigrant absorption minister Ze'ev Boim, whose appointments were twice defeated in the Knesset plenum under Ariel Sharon; none of the Likud anti-disengagement rebels who voted against Bar-On and Boim are in the 17th Knesset, other than Netanyahu.

In the Labor Party, too, there will be some eye-rubbing. Yuli Tamir, who won the big prize of the Education Ministry, will have to vote for the appointment of her bitter rival Dalia Itzik as Knesset speaker, and vice versa. And don't forget Haim Ramon, for whom this government is the fulfillment of the vision of the "big bang," or Rafi Eitan, the elderly Pensioners minister who will be occupying the cabinet room instead of an old-age home. Silvan Shalom also belongs on the list: If he had acceded to Sharon's offer and moved to Kadima, he could have been sitting around the cabinet table in a strategic location.

But more than anyone else, the four politicians who have won senior ministerial positions will be rubbing their eyes in disbelief: Olmert, in the prime minister's seat; Tzipi Livni, foreign minister and deputy prime minister; Avraham Hirchson, finance minister; and Amir Peretz, finance minister. Consider where they were six months ago and how far they have come. It's difficult to remember the last time there was a government led by four ministers who are new recruits when it comes to the task at hand. In this fateful period, it will be interesting to see them trying to understand where they are now.

Olmert basically has carried out the task of forming a government without leaving casualties in the field. Everyone can live with what they received, due both to Yisrael Beiteinu's absence and Olmert's decision to have a cabinet with 25 ministers, including six without portfolios.

Olmert found harmless ways to compensate the two most disappointed ministers - Shaul Mofaz, who wanted the Defense Ministry and got transportation (just like his predecessor Yitzhak Mordechai), and Meir Sheetrit, who wanted the Finance Ministry and got housing and construction. Olmert awarded to Mofaz the prize of deputy prime minister and responsibility for strategic dialogue, and gave Sheetrit supervision over covert services and the Israel Land Administration.

Olmert, it appears, has learned something from Sharon - as well he should, since he has now been on both ends of the granting of titles. After all, it was the honorific of vice prime minister, bestowed by Sharon on a disappointed political ally, that ended up catapulting Olmert unexpectedly to the premiership.