Olmert's New Government / Crazy-quilt PM Stitches Up His Future

Once more Ehud Olmert proved that in politics he is unrivaled. Roni Bar-On, the loyal foot soldier, is happy, having won the treasury. Ze'ev Boim, his childhood friend, is pleased, rescued from the immigrant absorption portfolio. The cute and pleasant Jacob Edery was smiling yesterday, the first time in a long while; he will single-handedly make the Negev flourish and he will settle the Galilee. Meir Sheetrit, the annoying rival, was upgraded. Maybe Olmert will now get some quiet time. Ruhama Avraham, a well-known troublemaker in Kadima, is now a minister of nothing. And so on, and so on...

Patch by patch, arrangement by arrangement, reinforcement by reinforcement. The most important thing is for the ship to keep on sailing, until after the holidays, and the final report of the Winograd Committee on the Second Lebanon War. The ministers are clearly pleased. But it is very doubtful whether the public considers the second Olmert government to be such a blessing. It looks like more of the same.

This government has been in place for 14 months and during that period there have been changes in half the ministries: At the treasury, housing, defense, interior, justice, tourism, welfare, immigrant absorption - and this is only a partial listing. Like the anecdote about the soldiers exchanging socks with each other to get a new pair, in most cases the ministers have simply switched places. This is not a government, someone said. It is a revolving door.

Who is all this lateral movement benefiting? The ministries? The work of the government? Continuity? No, nope, nay. They are benefiting Olmert.

This way he manages to survive, under near impossible circumstances. And there is no better medicine, from his point of view, for survival than the inclusion of Haim Ramon in the government. Ramon did not want this. He wanted to stay at home for a year or two, but Olmert put enormous pressure on him.

Yesterday afternoon the two had one of many telephone conversations. "I have been a friend to you, and you have been a friend to me," Olmert reiterated to Ramon for the umpteenth time. Ramon said no. The conversation ended with Ramon still being on the outside. Half an hour later Ramon called Olmert. According to a source close to Olmert he said: I cannot do this to you. I am in. I will be with you.

Whoever saw Ramon yesterday at the swearing-in ceremony, saw an unhappy man. His whole political career he has spent making dissatisfied politicians do things they did not want to do, laughing all the while. This past week, he found himself in a role he hates: He is the guy who has to do things he does not like - there are those who were trying to convince him and they finally proved successful.

There were no bounds to Olmert's joy yesterday. With Bar-On at the treasury and Ramon at his side, he feels like he is riding high. Now he wants to include another six deputy ministers. Three for Kadima - there are still a few embittered characters - and one each for Labor, Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu. Pretty soon the entire coalition will be part of the cabinet, and the government will never fall.