Let the Games Begin

For weeks now, the most expensive lawyers in the country have been working on the creation known as the "government guidelines" - undoubtedly the most effort-laden and superfluous document ever written.

In the guidelines of Ariel Sharon's government, the word disengagement was never mentioned; no Camp David appeared in the guidelines of the Ehud Barak government; Yitzhak Rabin's government guidelines had no Oslo; and Menachem Begin's first government guidelines had no Sinai pullout.

This waste of high-powered attorneys' time was mere groundwork for the past two days - the portfolio days, the days of weeping and wailing, of dashed hopes, of treachery and drawn knives.

Prime Minister-designate Ehud Olmert will be calling in his subjects in Kadima and rendering his verdict. No great dramas are expected; with 11 portfolios, everybody will have a job.

On Sunday, Labor's Central Committee will convene to decide who will chose its minsters - the central committee or party chairman Peretz. This is like letting the cat decide who will get the cream - the cat itself, or all the strays.

The central committee is used to selecting the ministers. It is very convenient that the tourist executives chose the tourism minister, the farmers the agriculture minister, and the contractors the infrastructure minister - very convenient and very corrupt.

Even the Likud Central Committee does not chose its MKs. And even if it did, it is not the same as choosing ministers. If Peretz is unable to drum a little logic into the heads of the central committee members, he may find himself with ministers he did not bank on, in jobs he did not intend for them.

Worst of all, the ministers who will be elected will owe him nothing, and he will not be an authority figure. This will mean all-out war. But Peretz is less worried about Avishay Braverman or Ami Ayalon getting on the list of ministers than he is about Ehud Barak slipping onto it with the help of the central committee.

Just picture it - Barak and Peretz sitting together at the cabinet table. Barak with his know-how and experience and authority on defense, opposite Peretz, a newly minted minister groping his way around that huge and complex ministry. If only to prevent that nightmare, Peretz will do everything he can over the next few days to cook up a wide-ranging political deal with everyone he wants to see as a minister, especially Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, who also wants to see Barak outside the cabinet.

Until this development loomed, Peretz had every reason to be pleased with himself. He achieved more than reasonable conditions for the party on the way to the coalition. He found Olmert a convenient partner who treated him fairly.

Olmert might have negotiated more coolly and avoided zigzagging on the question of the seventh minister and the deputies; but in a few days' time, the government will not be assessed by its size but by its action.s

If Avigdor Lieberman remains outside the government, Shas might feel lonely and surrounded by enemies in a clearly leftist coalition (certainly true if Meretz joins). Under such conditions, on the eve of Olmert's planned withdrawal, Shas will bolt. Even then, Olmert will have a "Jewish majority" of 60 lawmakers (Kadima, Labor, the Pensioners and Meretz) who together with the 10 Arab MKS, will let him get on with his program.

A senior Kadima official said he was sorry Lieberman was not going to join the coalition. "If only we could have given [Lieberman] the public security portfolio, he would have stayed in even if we gave back Ramat Hasharon," the official said.