The Bottom Line / United We Stand

There are still a few innocents among us who believe that the ministers and members of Knesset vote according to considerations of what is good for society and the economy.

There are still a few innocents among us who believe that the ministers and members of Knesset vote according to considerations of what is good for society and the economy. The following story should be an eye-opener for them.

It all began at the cabinet meeting on Sunday, when Communications Minister Dalia Itzik presented the ministers with the "union of councils" program, a particularly apt name.

The plan is aimed at combining the Second Broadcasting Authority's council with the Cable Broadcasting Council, in other words, to unite the supervision of Channels 2 and 10 with that of the cable and satellite channels. The significance of the move is that the compact cable and satellite council will become engulfed by the large and clumsy Second Authority council. The copious and detailed regulation applied to the Second Authority will be applied also to the cables and satellite, in the fashion of "big brother," who sees, hears and decides everything. The superfluous regulation will lead to greater expenditure and, consequently, to an inability on the part of the cable firms to compete, for example with Bezeq and its telephone services.

After Itzik finished presenting her union plan, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon took the floor and said: "I want to point out that when a minister wishes to make changes that are in the framework of his portfolio, I see no reason to oppose this." In this way, he gave his stamp of approval, thus influencing the discussion and the decision reached at its conclusion. He was motivated purely by personal political considerations, without any connection to his opinion about the plan.

Sharon's reasoning was as follows: True, uniting the councils is a bad idea. True, the treasury, the Justice Ministry and the attorney general are opposed to such a move. True, the move is aimed at thwarting the closure of the Communications Ministry. And true, it will harm the communications sector, which is critical for growth. But what is all that compared with my cardinal interest - to remain in power? And to that end, I need Dalia Itzik's good will.

The one who saved the situation somewhat was Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon, who proposed deleting paragraph C of the proposal. That paragraph talks of "annuling the cabinet decision of January 5, 2003," or stated more simply and clearly, to cancel the cabinet's decision to close down the ministry and replace it with a professional, apolitical communications authority, as is the practice in all western countries. And indeed, this paragraph was deleted.

Yesterday, two hours before the opening of the winter session of the Knesset, Finance Minister Ehud Olmert mumbled something about planning to raise the issue of the "union of councils" in the cabinet once again, with the intention of overturning the decision. Dalia Itzik's aides hastened to clarify that if this was the case, the Labor faction would not vote in favor in the Knesset of the appointment of the three new ministers, a proposal that was eventually postponed by a week. Olmert quickly changed his mind. Personal politics are paramount.

The union of councils

The Labor ministers who were interviewed by the media yesterday executed verbal acrobatics that would not have shamed the Medrano Circus, so as to remain in the Sharon government until June 2006, and preferably until November 2006. Haim Ramon was the most prominent fawner. He called for "real cooperation with the prime minister... corrections and changes to the budget," but recommended not to "trip up" the prime minister over "small details" and to vote in favor of the cabinet appointments, "because they are entitled to it."

Shimon Peres and Isaac Herzog presented a plan for changes and amendments to the budget to the tune of NIS 4.5 billion. The plan talks of the correct way to fight poverty - greater government intervention, a larger budget (which will mean increased taxation), more welfare payments, activating government ministries, handing out additional subsidies to employers - in short, a return to the magic formula of the former union of socialist republics.

No one in the treasury is dreaming of paying NIS 4.5 billion. Where will the money come from? At whose expense? But truth to tell, it really does not matter much to Ramon, Herzog and Peres. They will be happy even with half a billion. The main thing is that they still have their portfolios.