Keeping the Volvo Warm

For the past four months Israel has been run by a cabinet of 10 ministers. Miraculously, the state has survived. Security is okay, the economy is okay, electricity flows through the lines and water through the pipes, the hospitals are functioning. There was not even a single strike. It could have gone on for years, but starting today there will be politicians who will tell the public that without at least 26 ministers, the country won't survive. They are all critical, especially the six or seven of them without portfolio who will keep the seats of their Volvos warm on their long, urgent, purposeless trips to nowhere.

Not to worry, Ehud Olmert must be saying to himself. There will be a little squawking, and then it will blow over. He is right. In a week the cabinet will be sworn in. The ministers will squeeze in around the cabinet table, elbow to elbow. Maybe someone will bring up the small table from the Knesset basement, which looks like the children's table for the Passover Seder, built for the first government of Ariel Sharon (28 ministers at its peak).

The critics will have a field day but the next day's headlines will be about the PM's trip to the United States and the first security briefing by Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

A huge deal - seven ministers for Labor, 11 for Kadima - was closed Thursday night between Olmert and Labor head Peretz. Peretz fetched a nice bride-price for his party: seven ministers, three deputy ministers, three committee chairs. Of the 19 Labor MKs, 13 will be happy and busy, while the rest (Avishay Braverman? Ami Ayalon? Ophir Pines-Paz?) will be too weak to create an intraparty opposition.

The big winner is Yuli Tamir, who gets to be education minister, an important position that has not been in Labor hands since 1990. Her gamble - of supporting Peretz when no one else even handicapped him - paid off in a way that exceeded even her wildest dreams.