Ponderous Portfolios and Political Implications

The approval of the state budget in the Knesset last week removed the final barrier to the addition of new ministers to the government, a barrier which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert imposed. According to the impending arrangement, the abandoned welfare portfolio will be given to the Labor party. Naturally, Defense Minister Amir Peretz would have liked to give the orphaned Volvo to a member of his dwindling camp. His problem is that those who are suitable for the job are not part of his camp.

Peretz would have liked to appoint Druze activist Shakib Shanan, who was a step away from being elected to the Knesset (number 20 on the party slate). Getting a few thousand votes from the Druze villages in the coming primaries is no easy feat. But Peretz's associates warn that appointing a novice to such a complex portfolio, which has suffered enough from politicians' abuse, would not improve his own situation.

Until Minister Without Portfolio Eitan Cabel rushed to tell his buddies about the meeting in which he proposed to Peretz that he give up the defense portfolio, Cabel was the most likely candidate for the welfare portfolio.

One associate suggested to Peretz that he hold on to the portfolio himself in the meantime, and thereby spare himself the accusations that he is playing political games with the welfare of the poor and handicapped. The news that Ehud Barak decided to join the race was indeed welcomed by the defense minister's associates, who assumed that Barak would eat away at the support of the generals and admirals considering a run for the top.

Nevertheless, if Peretz loses the party leadership and has to surrender the defense portfolio, he could console himself with the welfare portfolio. In return for the new portfolio, the Labor party will have to give up the Science, Culture and Sport Ministry, which was vacated after Ophir Pines-Paz resigned to protest Avigdor Lieberman's joining the government. Ironically, MK Estherina Tartman of Yisrael Beiteinu is supposed to receive that portfolio.

The impending end to Haim Ramon's trial will present Olmert with a problem. Even if the Kadima minister is acquitted, public criticism of his behavior and the tense relationship with the State Prosecutor's Office in connection to the episode, will make it hard for the prime minister to restore his good friend from the little bang back to the Justice Ministry.

Tzipi Livni has made it clear to Olmert that, as far she is concerned, he can appoint whomever he chooses. The day the court issues a verdict in Ramon's case will be her last day in the Justice Ministry; she has no intention of staying there any longer than necessary, what with the headache of appointing judges and the ministerial committee to implement the Sasson Report.

Olmert did not give the foreign minister any reason to work overtime for him. The apparent solution will be to castle Ramon and Roni Bar-On. The former will return to the Interior Ministry and the latter will finally get to the Justice Ministry. Those who did not want him as attorney general will now have him as justice minister; from that position, too, it is possible to do a thing or two for his good friend from Beitar Jerusalem, who won the lottery and became prime minister.

A brigade on call

Once every few days, so long as the Qassam index is slightly above the norm, the secret weapon, the Bader Brigade, the Palestinians' elite reconnaissance unit, appears from somewhere out there. So to speak. This mysterious "elite unit" is supposed to free Sderot from its fear of the "color red" alarm and force the Palestinian artillery corps to raise a white flag. A security source well placed inside the brigade has trouble deciding whether to laugh at the delusions of western Negev residents or to cry over the bitter fate of the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces. Firstly, the prestigious unit, which camps and trains in Jordan, does not amount to more than 1,400 fighters, and only a bit more than half are willing to cross the river and dip their feet in the Palestinian morass.

They are not even willing to hear about the Gaza Strip: Palestinian fighters do not fight against their brothers who are battling the occupation. In the best case, if Israel allows them to bring their families with them, they will agree to remain in the West Bank to make some order at home. Given the age and physical ability of most, it is not at all certain that they will be able to overpower the armed gangs that have transformed the West Bank into the Wild West. And that is all before they even encounter IDF forces which have gotten used to shooting first and ascertaining after if the suspicious object the Palestinian was holding was a gun or a broomstick. Even the Americans are not willing to guarantee that the Bader Brigade's soldiers will not be hurt by such "friendly fire." Until a solution is found to all these problems, as well as a resolution of the matter of its command subordination to the Presidential Guard or to national security, the Bader Brigade is staying in Jordan.

The shatter of the Bader delusion places in doubt Tzipi Livni's plan for a Palestinian state within temporary borders. The plan proposes evacuating in the first stage all Israelis, soldiers and civilians from the eastern side of the separation fence. But the foreign minister does not at the moment have a suitable answer to the question of who will keep the residents of Kfar Sava safe from Qassams from Qalqilya.

Right to education

Aya Jabareen, a 16-year-old Palestinian teenager who lives in Bethany, which is near Ma'aleh Adumim, is one of thousands of Palestinian students who fight every day for their right to get to school in Jerusalem. They found roundabout ways of bypassing the separation fence and hold their breath in the hope that the soldiers at the checkpoint or the policemen in the Border Police jeep will not send them home. This summer, Jabareen traveled across the United States with one of the Israeli-Palestinian teen summer camps organized by peace organizations. Pictures of her sitting next to her Israeli friends filled the local press and were accompanied by moving stories of the friendships that developed between the young representatives of the two peoples.

Jabareen returned home as the new school year approached. Since she is over the age of 16, she was required to get her own identity card from the PA. According to Israeli regulations, school is not a sufficient reason to receive a permit for permanent passage into the Jerusalem jurisdiction. "I passed through thousands of kilometers to reach America, to a peace camp and didn't face any difficulty," she wrote in a letter to Education Minister Yuli Tamir. "However, I find it impossible to reach my school in Jerusalem that is about five kilometers from my house."

She further writes in impressive English, "I am a student. I carry neither weapons, nor bombs to school, however I carry the message of education and peace. I have every right to reach school safe and sound without facing teenage soldiers at checkpoints controlling my life everyday, just because I have a West Bank [Palestinian] ID."

Jabareen wrote on behalf of her friends to ask the minister to help them realize their right to an education. Tamir said yesterday that she asked defense officials to accompany her on a visit to the area and promised to try and help. Here is a question for a citizenship test and perhaps in logic: Which teenage girl is it easier to transform into a suicide bomber?

The one checkpoint soldiers say hello to as she heads to school, or the one who is sent back home?

Arab labor

Late chief rabbi Isaac Herzog, despite being a very enlightened Jew, would presumably not have been pleased to see his grandson attend mass at church. Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog, who is named after his grandfather, is proud to be the first Israeli minister to spend Christmas Eve at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. He also encouraged the security forces to allow several hundred Christians from the Galilee and the Gaza Strip to cross the checkpoints on the way to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. For the cynics, let it be noted that the Christian minority is a negligible presence in the Labor party central committee.

Alongside the desire to emphasize Nazareth's importance to tourism and a desire to encourage a community in distress, Herzog is presenting Israeli Arabs with a unique agenda. At a seminar now underway at the Jewish-Arab Center for Economic Development, Herzog said it was inconceivable that "the Tel Aviv city center" be off limits to members of minorities. He calls on attorneys, accountants and business people from the Center to adopt an affirmative absorption policy toward Arab academics, as the legal firm he inherited from his father, Herzog Fox Neeman does.

He promises that they will not regret it and relates the story of an attorney from the Arab city of Taibe, employed by the firm, who is now a professor of law at Harvard University. To hoteliers, Herzog suggests following in the footsteps of Miki Federman, who appointed an Arab to manage one of the hotels in the Dan chain.

However Herzog is not freeing Israeli Arabs of responsibility for their situation. From reports he receives from the Tadmor School of Tourism, 10 percent of whose students are Arab, the tourism minister learned that too many students are not managing to overcome the language barrier. Not only their command of English, but also their command of Hebrew makes it hard for them to find jobs in the Center. He is urging the young Arabs to make a greater effort and hopes for the day when we will be able to see young Bedouins with laptops sitting at espresso bars on Sheinkin Street. Next time he sees Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson or Education Minister Yuli Tamir, he should ask for the latest figures from the education budget for the Arab "sector."