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Exactly what kind of a coalition is Ehud Olmert planning? After getting the nod from President Moshe Katsav yesterday, he's going to start negotiations on Sunday with parties that represent more than 100 MKs, basically everyone from the Likud to Meretz is in on the game, with only the Arab parties and right-wing National Union-National Religious Party beyond the pale.
Obviously, not all the candidates will eventually find themselves around the same cabinet table, but Olmert is trying to have as large as possible a coalition base, with a minor opposition, comprised mainly of marginal elements. His objective is clear, he wants a stable administration that will last for the next four and a half years.
But there is a difference between a coalition not constantly under threat by errant MKs, and an unwieldy behemoth unable to coordinate policy over a wide range of fields, where individual ministers can pretty much do whatever they like in their fiefdoms. Especially as the larger the coalition, the less sway Kadima, the main party of government with only 29 MKs, will have in it. Neither is a small, insignificant opposition the best thing for a healthy democracy.
Olmert is repeating the same mistakes he made as Jerusalem mayor. Elected with only a small personal faction, he also formed a coalition based on almost all the members of the city council. The local opposition, representing the embattled secular residents of the capital, was totally powerless. But so was Olmert, when he tried to rein in some of his more excessive coalition partners.
For most of his nine years as mayor, Olmert concerned himself with his pet projects - road-building and Betar Jerusalem - and left the rest of the coalition members to their own devices.
Are we about set to see a rerun? Will Olmert concern himself with the convergence plan, visits to the White House and perhaps a bit of macro-economics? Who will be in charge of the rest? The political scene is buzzing now with names of the different MKs who see themselves as candidates for the senior cabinet posts. But what's in the balance now is much more than mere personal ambitions and rivalries.
Kadima has no clear stand on most crucial issues. Government policy in a wide range of fields influencing our everyday lives will be determined solely according to the personal agenda of the minister who finally reaches the top of the greasy pole.
Take the bitterly contested Education portfolio for example. Whether Labor's Yuli Tamir or Kadima's Uriel Reichman gets the job is much more than a question of personal or political prestige. The two professors have radically different plans for Israeli education. Tamir is in favor of investing heavily in kindergartens, in the belief that children's basic skills are determined at that age. Reichman believes that four- and five-year-olds can already go to elementary school. They also differ at the other end: Tamir wants the government to subsidize higher learning for everyone; Reichman is a supporter of privatizing universities.
Which policy does Olmert prefer? Is the government going to have a serious discussion at all on this topic?
And what about the Social Affairs Ministry coveted by both Shas and the Gil Pensioners Party? Where will the meager resources be directed, to increasing old-age pensions or benefits for large, mainly haredi families? Surely this is a question that shouldn't be determined only by the identity of the party that receives the portfolio.
If the Interior Ministry goes to Shas, what will happen to the commission to formulate new citizenship guidelines for non-Jewish residents set up by the former minister Ophir Paz-Pines? Will this burning issue be addressed by a Shas minister?
Olmert's biggest headache next week will be deciding how to divide the spoils between his new partners and his party colleagues. Perhaps he should take a few days off first to try to decide what kind of a society he hopes to build over the next few years.
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