Dalia Itzik's Example

Itzik should be praised for her modesty in being a public figure who knows her limitations.

Dalia Itzik should serve as an example to us all. The moment she was appointed interim president of the state, she announced that she does not wish to occupy that office when it becomes vacant, and that she regards her appointment as a temporary trust.

Expressing her renewed obligation to her position as Knesset speaker, she declared that she loves the job and is proud of it, and hoped to return the keys to the President's Residence as soon as possible.

Itzik is to be praised for the modesty inherent in her statement: Here is a public figure who knows her limitations. She knows she was chosen as Knesset speaker not because she was the natural candidate for the position, but because she knew how to take advantage of opportune political circumstances.

She knows she must still prove that the choice was justified, that she has a long road ahead of her to become the supreme parliamentary authority in the Israeli legislature, that she must pass constitutional and political tests that are far from simple before she can be considered a national leader of the first order.

In other words, Itzik's statement contains recognition that the job of state president is too big for her at this moment in time, that she must first persuade the public that she is worthy of the position of Knesset speaker.

This self-awareness should be at the forefront of the minds of the politicians knocking on Ehud Olmert's door as he hands out cabinet portfolios.

Ehud Barak believed himself a political genius when he chose to assemble a cabinet that harnessed two horses that could not pull together - Shas and Meretz. "They will balance each other out," he said with self-confidence. He also believed that he could beat the system when he gave Shlomo Ben-Ami the public security portfolio, of all things, at the same time he placed David Levy at the helm of the Foreign Ministry.

Barak justified these acrobatics with sophisticated explanations, but reality responded by giving him a slap in the face. His government collapsed quickly because from the outset he did not found it on partners who shared basic harmony.

The results of his ministerial appointments could be seen, among other things, in the handling of the events of October 2000 in the Arab sector and of Israel's international status while he was premier.

Ehud Olmert found it proper to choose Amir Peretz as defense minister, Abraham Hirchson as finance minister, and Avigdor Lieberman as minister of strategic affairs. And now he is about to make new appointments in a number of ministries.

The success of Peretz's tenure in the Defense Ministry can be gauged by the results of the second Lebanon war; the extent of Hirchson's suitability to head the treasury can be seen by the interest the police have taken in his involvement in the dealings of the Nili non-profit association, and the wisdom of involving Lieberman in the area of strategy can be judged by his heated statements in that regard.

Prime Minister Olmert must now determine whether to continue his mistaken path of appointments or to correct it. He must ask himself whether Ghaleb Majadele, whose appointment is welcome in itself because of its symbolic significance, is the right man to head the science and culture ministry (a question that could also have been posed regarding Matan Vilnai in the Barak cabinet), and if Roni Bar-On should occupy the justice minister's chair.

He must consider the significance of appointing an MK with racist opinions, like Esterina Tartman, to his cabinet, just as he is not exempt from scrutinizing whether placing the communications portfolio in the hands of Shas was a wise decision.

Olmert would respond that he is operating out of political exigencies. That is true; but the prime minister has some room to maneuver in filling cabinet posts and distributing portfolios among the parties. He must avoid, first and foremost, creating a built-in conflict between the bearer of a portfolio and the ministry he or she has been given to head.

People who have been entrusted with important governmental duties must deal with crises that reveal their personal suitability for the position. Look at the behavior of President Katsav and the judgment Haim Ramon demonstrated in recent weeks.

Why, from the outset, choose politicians for jobs that are too big for them? Olmert, and especially those who are competing for the vacant cabinet portfolios, would be well advised to learn from Dalia Itzik.