Most liberal and left-wing commentators are not very happy about the new
government that is to be sworn in today, pointing out that since the
representatives of the settlers in this government are more numerous than in the
previous government, and since Uri Ariel from the Bayit Yehudi party will be in
charge of the Construction and Housing Ministry, we are likely to see massive
building in the settlements at the expense of building inside the Green Line,
and at the expense of any meaningful negotiations with the
No doubt the strengthening of the settlers is one of
numerous changes in the political reality following the recent elections, but
there are many other changes – many of them positive. Furthermore, though Bayit
Yehudi is committed to building in the settlements it is also committed to doing
something about the housing shortages within the Green Line, and there is no
reason to believe that Uri Ariel will serve his constituents only. The future of
negotiations with the Palestinians is a more serious problem.
new government is not exactly my “cup of tea,” and despite my support for the
Labor Party, which has decided to remain in the opposition, I am still inclined
to look at the bright side of things. There are quite a few aspects of this
government, and the current division between coalition and opposition, for
someone like myself to feel positive about.
As to the government, the
first piece of good news is that after many years we shall finally have a
full-time health minister – former Herzliya mayor Yael German from Yesh Atid –
who is known as a hard worker, with progressive views.
Next we have Tzipi
Livni, leader of Hatnua, as justice minister and chairwoman of the ministerial
committee on legislation. For all those who worry about the status of the rule
of law, this is certainly good news. This does not mean that all the
anti-liberal and anti-democratic bills which some of the members of the
Likud-Beytenu parliamentary group are likely to continue to table, will not get
through in the Knesset in one form or another.
However, it does mean that
one of the gatekeepers will be no other than the minister in charge, which was
not the case in the previous government, when former justice minister Yaakov
Neeman himself seemed to support some of the more outrageous bills.
might make up for the loss of another gatekeeper in this sphere in the 18th
Knesset – former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin.
I have fewer hopes for
Livni’s chances of leaving a positive imprint on the talks with the
Palestinians, and believe that her role in this sphere is meant mainly to be
window-dressing for international consumption.
As to the Education
Ministry, Rabbi Shai Piron is the right man to head this ministry at the current
On the one hand, as an open-minded rabbi he is likely to find a
good balance between the teaching of Jewish studies in the secular school
system, and of ensuring that a core curriculum of non-religious studies is
taught in the independent haredi school system.
He can also be expected
to strengthen the education for democracy and tolerance, and against
Amram Mitzna, who will apparently be appointed chairman of the
Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee, can be depended on to back up
In the economic sphere, though I am not a supporter of
the extreme capitalist doctrines advocated by Binyamin Netanyahu, Yair Lapid and
Naftali Bennett, it is certainly good news that the prime minister, finance
minister and economics and trade minister are of a single mind regarding the
required economic policy to get Israel out of its current financial predicament,
and despite the complicated relations that exist between the three
personalities, there is a good chance that they will pull the cart in the same
direction – which is vital for success. It remains to be seen who will replace
Stanley Fischer as the governor of the Bank of Israel.
government-Knesset relations, the best news is that after many years we shall
have a strong and effective opposition, made up of 52 Knesset Members. The 21
Zionist social-democratic MKs, the 18 haredi MKs, 11 MKs from the Arab parties,
and what remains of Kadima promise to put up a good fight on a wide range of
socioeconomic issues, and the peace process, as well as on the issue of the
“equal bearing of the burden.”
An active opposition will certainly
increase its prestige after many years of disrepute. There is nothing
dishonorable about being in opposition – it is part of what makes the democratic
Finally we come to the issue of the Knesset
I am one of those who are sorry to see Rivlin go – mostly
because he was an active and effective defender of the rule of law and of
minority rights in the 18th Knesset, despite his strong support of the
settlement enterprise, and Greater Israel. However, I am not sure that his
replacement, Yuli Edelstein, will prove to be as bad as some fear. Edelstein is
soft-spoken man with a pleasant disposition and demeanor (which is more than one
can say about Rivlin). He is frank to the extreme. For example, his official
biography includes the facts that his father converted to Christianity and
serves as an Orthodox priest in Russia, and his own employment as a nude model
in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Moscow.
Like most other prisoners of
Zion who made aliya, Edelstein turned religious and joined the more extreme
right-wing political camp in Israel. However, so far we have no indication that
he will not defend the rule of law in the Knesset, or that he will be less than
fair toward the Arab MKs.
I just hope that my relative optimism will not
come flying back at my face.
The writer is a former Knesset employee.