Bringing in an extra table for an extra-large government

Even before it was clear just how many members would sit at the table of the nation's 32nd government, Knesset staff were busy getting "the little table" that served the inflated government of former prime minister Ariel Sharon out of the storeroom, to attach to the government's regular table in the plenum. Though the Likud's coalition partners knew by Monday who would be appointed to which ministry, the Likud's own MKs spent the day trying to guess what Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu had in mind for them, and how many of them would indeed be ministers. But the Knesset management knew to expect an extremely large government, which was the topic of the day in the Knesset corridors yesterday. The "little table" they pulled out was the same one that had served the Sharon government sworn in in 2001, which had 25 ministers. Netanyahu - who had once enthusiastically supported a bill limiting the number of ministers to 18 - plans to present a government of up to 30 ministers and eight deputy ministers. "This bill was meant to make Israel's governments more efficient, and to make them similar, more or less, to acceptable international standards," Netanyahu said, when the 18-minister bill was submitted by MKs Gideon Sa'ar and Reuven Rivlin (Likud) during the 17th Knesset. "The government I headed was the only government that accepted this rule and had only 18 ministers, while Sharon had 25 ministers in his government and [Labor chairman and Defense Minister Ehud] Barak had 23 ministers when he was prime minister," he added. Kadima MK Yohanan Plessner, who submitted a similar bill Monday that limits the number of ministers to 18, could not be happier. Plessner said that there was a big contradiction between the monumental number of ministers and the issues for which their offices would be responsible. "This is also an outrageous waste of public money, especially at this difficult time, and a recipe for a failing government that will not be able to function due to disputes over authority and coordination problems between the different ministries," Plessner said. Plessner added a statement by Sa'ar when Sa'ar submitted a bill of his own as an opposition member: "There is no justification for a government of more than 18 ministers. This is a waste of public money and it is made at the expense of other essential public needs." Plessner also cited Rivlin's comments on the subject: "It is unacceptable that in the State of Israel, which suffers from deteriorating economic and social conditions, an economically disproportionate government will be established. Another Kadima MK, Nachman Shai, also criticized Netanyahu's large government, charging it was a danger to democracy. "Binyamin Netanyahu's decision to appoint one of the biggest governments in Israeli history will prevent the Knesset from doing its job and supervising the government's actions," said Shai. Meanwhile, future coalition members were struggling with just who would man the Knesset's 17 committees. If the new coalition includes 69-74 members, of whom 29 or 30 will be ministers and eight will be deputy ministers, the rest will have to maneuver their parliamentary schedules between one committee and another. At the moment, 17 Knesset committees operate regularly and the law states that 15-17 MKs can be members on each committee. One idea to handle the shortage of "free" MKs was to decrease that number to 12-13. But even then, each MK who is also a member of the coalition would have to be a member of at least three committees. The Knesset committees are powerful government tools, where coalition members can stymie bills approved in the plenum against the coalition's will. But the Likud will likely have a significant period of adjustment on the committee level, since most of its experienced legislators who have headed committees will be appointed ministers on Tuesday, and younger colleagues will have to learn the ropes. Netanyahu's office said in response that the fact that the electoral system had changed from the last time he was elected prime minister - in 1996 he had been directly elected - also changed the coalition's needs. His office added that he was committed to changing the electoral and governing systems and that he would examine the issue of ministerial appointments.