Analysis / Again, the Fiefdoms Win, the Public Loses

It seems there is no majority in the government for the budget. The Labor Party has seven ministers and they decided to vote against. Shas has five ministers and they'll vote nay.

It seems there is no majority in the government for the budget. The Labor Party has seven ministers and they decided to vote against. Shas has five ministers and they'll vote nay. The National Religious Party has two ministers and they threaten to vote against. So does Natan Sharansky of the Yisrael B'Aliyah party. That's 15 out of 26 who are opposed. See? The budget won't pass.

But there's no need to get too excited by ministerial statements on the eve of the vote. If they didn't threaten to vote against, and attack the budget with particularly harsh terms, who would put them on TV? The more vehement the statement and the more vulgar the language, the more time they get to go on the tube and show themselves to the people as the great defenders of the poor. So why miss such an opportunity?

Silvan Shalom cannot convince Shas. They always vote against the budget and they always stay in the government. Of the 15 ministers, 3 are easy to deal with. Silvan Shalom can easily buy off the NRP if he promises he won't increase the number of pupils in classrooms from 22 to 24, and if they hear about a few dozen more millions for yeshivot hesder and the settlements when the budget passes the Knesset in December. He'll be able to buy off Sharansky the same way.

So, the budget will only have 12 opponents, and will pass. Even without Sharansky it would pass because in the case of a tie, the prime minster has the deciding vote.

Benjamin Ben-Eliezer also wants the budget to pass. He wants all the Labor ministers to vote against - but he wants the budget to pass and the government to survive. His goal is to remain in the government until his party's internal elections in November, so he can be defense minister as he faces the challenge from Haim Ramon. And if all the Labor ministers vote against the budget but it passes, he'll be able to say in his election campaign, we didn't make this budget, we aren't to blame for the poverty, the jobless rate, the drop in the standard of living. They are, Likud and Center, they voted for this anti-social budget.

But what happens if the NRP does, after all, vote against it and the danger doesn't pass? Then expect one of the Labor ministers to be suddenly taken ill or be tardy to the vote, because they didn't hear the bell.

The Labor Party is not very convincing in its opposition to the bill. It didn't after all, present an alternative. It could have come up with a different proposal, and to oppose a whole string of unnecessary new government expenditures, like the expanded map of national priorities or the tax abatements for real estate owners.

Meretz, on the other hand, did propose an alternative and logical budget. It proposes cutting billions that go to the settlers, something that doesn't even appear in Silvan Shalom's budget, which excludes the settlements from all the cuts, since for him and the Likud, it's better to build a new road and tunnel in the territories than to open courses for vocational training.

Meretz is proposing to cut support for yeshiva students, to eliminate the Religious Affairs Ministry and close the Religious Councils. None of those issues appear in Shalom's budget because he wouldn't dream of cutting kollel allotments and the other benefits that yeshiva students enjoy. But to cut guaranteed income? Sure. Yeshiva students don't work by choice, so why hurt those who get guaranteed income and not the yeshiva students? Is their blood thicker?

Nor is there a word in the treasury plan about unifying government ministries and canceling redundant functions, because the most dangerous thing in these parts is not to hurt the jobless or the poor, but to hurt the fiefdoms of the 26 ministers and their 11 deputies.