Oh, What a Lovely Cabinet

The pre-election promises to usher in a new age for the government turns out to have been just for show - Ehud Olmert is left with the well-used list from the pre-Kadima Likud, and is not giving cabinet posts to anyone with any new ideas.

One cannot keep from bursting into song at the vision of the cabinet that is being formed before our very eyes. All those new, fresh, promising faces, each one heralding so much. The people wanted a change, and their expectations are being fulfilled.

So, who do we have? Abraham Hirchson and Meir Sheetrit, Shimon Peres and Shaul Mofaz, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Eli Yishai, Shalom Simhon and Haim Ramon. And, apparently, Avigdor Lieberman, too. All of them familiar, experienced, certified men of vision and action. A feast for the eyes. The (relatively) young ones, Isaac Herzog and Ophir Pines-Paz, have been pushed to the sidelines. Maybe they will get cabinet posts and maybe not: The lion's share goes to incumbents and the friends of the leader but there is not necessarily a relationship between these factors and the candidates' job suitability.

The elections were held under clouds of incense spread about by the headquarters of the two main parties, ushering in a new age. That is the message embodied by the very establishment of Kadima, as well as by the election of Amir Peretz as Labor Party chairman and the addition of a few personalities from outside the political establishment on the list of Knesset candidates.

Now all that turns out to have been just for show. Kadima is not giving cabinet posts to anyone with any new ideas, and it has even agreed to let go of Prof. Uriel Reichman. Ehud Olmert is left with the well-used list from the pre-Kadima Likud, and he must also battle against giving deputy minister positions to those great public figures, Ruhama Avraham, Eli Aflalo and Majali Wahabi. Peretz, for his part, is pushing Ami Ayalon and Avishay Braverman aside and returning to the old pool of Labor veterans for his pick of ministerial candidates.

Seniority is not necessarily a bad thing, and the desire for new faces does not necessarily attest to realistic expectations, or to an objective need. One can easily argue that the good of the country requires cabinet members who are experienced in the ways of government. One can also argue that it is unfair to ignore the few innovations in the list of probable ministers (Yuli Tamir in the Education Ministry, Tzipi Livni as foreign minister, Amir Peretz in the Defense Ministry), but is that the child the voters prayed for?

The test is not the seniority, or lack thereof, of the ministerial candidates, but rather their abilities and their actions. Is this the best team the political establishment, under the current balance of powers, can field to tackle the challenges faced by the state?Politics is, of course, the art of the possible, but the boundaries of ability are to a large extent determined by the individuals involved. Olmert may be following a wise strategy in building his coalition; he was less convincing when it came to building the list of Kadima Knesset candidates, and now in his selection of ministers.

It is his endurance, rather than his personal preferences, that are being tested: three months ago he gave in to pressure from Ariel Sharon's sons not to include Dan Meridor on the party's list, and now he is avoiding confronting the personal wishes of some of the party's leaders (is it really a party?), and handing out portfolios not in accordance with their abilities and certainly not in a manner that suits the public interest (Ramon in Justice, Mofaz in Trade and Industry, Hirchson in the Finance Ministry).

Peretz is behaving in a similar manner. He is giving preference to internal party considerations over the good of the state and turning his back on the message of renewal he transmitted to the public only a month ago.These concerns can be resolved through the (correct) perception that this is the way of politics since time immemorial. Anyone who is satisfied with this explanation should not be surprised by the continuing decline in voter turnout. The hope for a change in the behavior of the political system, which is dashed again and again, leads to disappointment.