Taking Stock / It's Not All Politics

It's a political axiom: the cabinet brings a resolution before the Knesset, and from that moment on it's all politics.

It's a political axiom: the cabinet brings a resolution before the Knesset, and from that moment on it's all politics. The political haggling forces the cabinet to compromise, sometimes leaving the end result a far cry from the original intent.

The stormy debates at the Knesset Finance Committee over the Bachar reform give the impression of business as usual. On the one hand, you have Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his director general, Joseph Bachar, and the eight regulators who comprised the Bachar committee that designed a reform of the capital market and banks. They want the reform passed as is, down to the last comma, in order to make the capital market more competitive and advanced.

On the other side are the Finance Committee members, some of whom understand the reform, some who think they understand it, and some who couldn't care less, but each has his own views and opinions and interests, and ideas for change and compromise.

The political axiom says that Netanyahu, Bachar and the regulators will be forced to bend and compromise. They will have to forgo some of the reform to get the rest through. That is the price of the political system.

Netanyahu, Bachar and the team members may want us to accept the axiom - but the truth is that this time, it does not apply.

For one thing, Netanyahu has unprecedented support at the Finance Committee. Almost all its members from Netanyahu's own Likud party are his cronies. They need him.

These Likud Finance Committee members heed Netanyahu, and not only because almost all oppose Ariel Sharon and the disengagement plan he's leading.

Just Wednesday, they decided to remove the part of the reform allowing banks to sell pension coverage. But after a meeting with Netanyahu at the Carlton Hotel in Tel Aviv, they reached a compromise: the banks would be allowed to market pension coverage after all, with some limitations.

Moreover, the Likud members of the Finance Committee know where their bread is buttered, or more specifically, who controls the budget. Each wants to be reelected in the party primaries to be held in six to nine months. To improve their chances of a sufficiently high ranking to return to the Knesset, they have to show achievements during their current stint in parliament. Who could be better placed than the finance minister to help an MK allocate resources?

They need Netanyahu just as much as Netanyahu needs them to support his reform of the banks. True, each of the MKs has his own demand regarding that reform, but they know how to compromise, too.

Netanyahu and Bachar, therefore, have enormous leverage over the Finance Committee members. That's why the results of the panel's debate depends on their grit, leadership, diligence and commitment to the purposes for which they set up the Bachar committee in the first place.

If Netanyahu and Bachar accept changes and compromises, they cannot blame it on the political system's structure. The Finance Committee members know full well that if the finance minister wanted to, he could exert tremendous pressure on their chairman, Yaakov Litzman, and on them as well.

Netanyahu, Bachar and Litzman can't sell us that story: "We wanted a reform but had to compromise." Behind the compromises could lie their own secret desire to bend to the tremendous pressure of the banking lobby. If so, Netanyahu and Bachar simply used the Knesset Finance Committee members to pull their chestnuts out of the fire.