Just Fooling? New Gov't to Be Sworn in on April 1

The new government is to be sworn in at the earliest at 11 P.M. tonight, but delays may push the ceremony to after midnight. The traditional photograph of the cabinet together with the president is expected to take place as late as 1 A.M. The new timetable may allow the opposition to crown the new cabinet the April Fool's Day government.

The Knesset session discussing the new government is to open at 5 P.M. only, because President Shimon Peres, who is scheduled to attend, will be returning from the Czech Republic only at 4 P.M.

The session will open with a speech by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert summing up his term in office. After Olmert's speech, which will not be limited in time, Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu will present his government, followed by opposition chairwoman Tzipi Livni's response. Speakers from each faction, limited to three minutes each, will then address the plenum. Their comments will be followed by a vote on the new government.

Outgoing coalition chairman Yoel Hasson (Kadima) said yesterday that his faction had requested an open vote, "to allow the people of Israel to see who voted for the most wasteful government in the history of the country, a government that hands out unnecessary jobs and creates an atmosphere of despair."

MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) submitted a bill yesterday to limit the number of ministers in the cabinet. Similar bills were submitted in the previous Knesset by MK Reuven Rivlin and education minister-designate Gideon Sa'ar, both from Likud.

Table woes

An additional, smaller table was set up yesterday alongside the cabinet table, made necessary by Netanyahu's decision to increase the cabinet's size. A maximum of 27 people can crowd around the present table, while Netanyahu's cabinet will consist of 29 or 30 ministers. However, two tables are considered problematic, because they will serve as a continual reminder to the public of the large size of the cabinet.

In the explanation accompanying the bill to limit the size of the cabinet, Sa'ar wrote at the time: "There is no justification for more than 18 ministers," calling it "a waste of public money."

Rivlin wrote: "It is inconceivable in the State of Israel, which is dealing with a declining socioeconomic situation, for a cabinet to be established without budgetary proportions."

Plesner pointed to what he called a striking contrast between the monumental swell in the number of ministers and the division of their offices into crumbs. "It is an infuriating waste of public funds," he said.