And now, to work

Israel has a new government, the most bloated in its history, with 30 ministers and 7 deputy ministers.

Netanyhahu eats glasses 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Netanyhahu eats glasses 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel has a new government, the most bloated in its history, with 30 ministers and seven deputy ministers. It's appalling. Selfish. And to be expected. • Blame the political system, which makes it impossible to form a government without exchanging patronage for parliamentary support. No political party ever formed a government without horse-trading; and now the Likud has been forced to throw in paddocks, stables and hayricks to garner the support of roughly 70 of the 120 Knesset members. Did anyone think Israel Beiteinu, Shas, Labor, United Torah Judaism and Habayit Hayehudi would come cheap? Or that the hurt egos of Likud MKs excluded from the most prestigious ministries wouldn't have to be soothed? • Blame the voters, who should have thrown their support behind one of the three or four major parties for the Knesset, but instead sent 12 parties to the legislature - most of whom place their parochial needs above the collective good. • Save some blame, too, for Kadima leader Tzipi Livni. Had she joined Binyamin Netanyahu's government together with Avigdor Lieberman, a relatively lean cabinet able to embark on urgently needed electoral reform could have emerged. Instead, Livni claimed - quite disingenuously - that "policy differences" with Netanyahu over how best to negotiate with the Palestinians would not allow her to join. Yet what actually sent her to the opposition was his refusal to consent to a rotation government. THE SIZE of the government may make it hard for Knesset committees to function, but it shouldn't have a deleterious impact on governmental decision-making. That's because the mega-cabinet, which will meet Sundays, is not where decisions will be made. The premier must appoint a security cabinet, whose membership is determined by law. Netanyahu will also create an "inner cabinet" to debate a range of domestic and international issues. It will include Lieberman, Dan Meridor, Moshe Ya'alon, Bennie Begin, Silvan Shalom, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Eli Yishai. But the most sensitive decisions will be made by Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. How efficiently the government works will depend not on the size of the cabinet, but on how well key staffers in the Prime Minister's Office coordinate the apparatus of power and manage the flow of decision-making up the chain of command. ISRAEL now has a semblance of a "unity government" and can move forward. Indeed, there are several laudable cabinet appointments. Though Netanyahu will head his own economic team, Yuval Steinitz will be his man at the Treasury. Steinitz has no particular expertise in economics, but sufficient brainpower to excel in a job where personal loyalty to the premier can help bring coherence to government policy. The ministry has an image of being dominated by supercilious civil servants who think they should set the agenda. On the other hand, with tax revenues dramatically down, it may fall to Steinitz to tell the coalition partners that not all of his boss's promises can be kept. The presence of Shas's Yitzhak Cohen as deputy finance minister is, however, worrisome. His being there will cost taxpayers money. At a time of unprecedented economic dislocation, Israelis are less interested in economic dogma than in job and wage security. LET'S hope the brainpower of Meridor (security services), Ya'alon (strategic affairs), Yaakov Neeman (Justice) and Begin, among others, will fully be utilized. With our new premier intent on reversing the downward spiral in our education system, Netanyahu loyalist Gideon Sa'ar takes the education portfolio. Consummate professional Matan Vilna'i will stay on as deputy defense minister, and that's comforting. Yuli Edelstein can contribute as hasbara minister - not by seeking to create an empire, but by working with the premier's new communications director, Ron Dermer, to maximize existing public diplomacy resources while avoiding ruffling bureaucratic feathers. Of course, the object of this exercise is not to form a government, but to govern. Together with Barak, whose presence bolsters Israel's case in the international arena, Netanyahu will grapple with a crisis-filled agenda that includes Iran's nuclear weapons program, Hamas's ascendency among the Palestinians, and a wobbly economy. We can't promise Netanyahu a honeymoon. But we'd advise a good night's sleep - there's lots to be done.