Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"The Government Shuffle"

Arlene Kushner

I will devote this post to internal political issues, with discussion of other matters to follow soon.

The negotiations between Likud and the new Independence party have been completed, and the new portfolios assigned. One perhaps needs a score card to keep track of it all. For those interested in the details, I provide them at the bottom of this posting. New positions will become official after being passed by the Knesset tomorrow.

Suffice it to say here that of the five people in the new Independence faction, four will have Cabinet portfolios and each -- with the exception of Barak, who is retaining his Defense position -- will have been promoted.
hat's quite a coup for a new faction that isn't even fully a party yet. Clearly there was an understanding between Netanyahu and Barak. It is almost a given that prestigious positions were promised as a way to entice those involved to break from Labor -- that break being something that Netanyahu clearly sees being as to his advantage.

Netanyahu is saying that his coalition is now more governable because everyone in it wants to be in it -- this being a reference to the continual dissatisfaction voiced by the left of the Labor party. But there's another piece to this story: That disgruntled left of Labor was always threatening to pull the party out of the coalition (which is why Barak, who very much wants to retain his position, catered to them). By drawing five people away from Labor, Netanyahu was able to keep his coalition stronger than it would have been had all 13 Labor members pulled out.

Not surprisingly, the prime minister's catering to the Independence faction has left other factions of the coalition disgruntled. But when they sought enhancement of their positions, Netanyahu told them, nothing doing.


Yesterday there had been talk that there might be yet another split, dividing the remaining eight Labor MKs into two separate groups. But the decision has been made to hang together. "We've decided to give Labor another chance," declared MK Amir Peretz, speaking for himself and three other party dissidents, MKs Ghaleb Majadle, Daniel Ben-Simon, and Eitan Cabel. They want a new constitution, a reshaping of the party, and a new leader.

I have picked up nothing regarding the official resignation from the coalition of the rump Labor party of eight MKs, but it is broadly assumed that they will be leaving. This reduces Netanyahu's coalition from 74 to 66. And it will have the effect of strengthening the hands of Shas and Yisrael Beitenu, as Netanyahu cannot afford to lose an additional faction.


In speaking about the fact that he now has a strengthened, more unified coalition, Netanyahu addressed the Palestinian Arabs, saying that they, and all others, will have to face the fact that he is the address for negotiations. He will not be going anywhere, he said. There was no point in trying to wait him out.

I can understand this attitude, particularly as there have been rumors about expectations (reportedly voiced, for example, within the Obama administration) that his government might soon fall and that Tzipi Livni, more amenable to making concessions, would take over.


What we need to look at, however, is where this takes us with regard to the "peace process."

After saying that his government was the address for negotiations, Netanyahu made yet one more impassioned statement about how he would miss no opportunity to get back to the table and pursue peace. So many times he has made these statements. And how wearisome they are.

What I observed is that a day earlier, Barak had made a similar comment. With stress within Labor no longer distracting them, he said, the members of the new Independence faction would be better equipped to work for peace.

Uh oh. What does this mean?

One commentator whose piece I read today opined that neither Barak nor Netanyahu will be strongly motivated to work for negotiations, now that Labor's left, which applied pressure and made threats, is absent from the scene.

This has a certain plausibility, but it remains to be seen.


The new Cabinet line-up.

Three Labor ministers resigned from the government on Monday:

Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben- Eliezer, Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog and Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman.
In addition to Ehud Barak, who retains his position as Defense Minster, four people -- three of them ministers -- moved over from Labor to Independence:

Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon; Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai; Deputy Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Orit Noked; and Knesset Member Einat Wilf. Of these:

Simchon will now replace Ben Eliezer in Industry, Trade and Labor.

Noked will replace Simchon in Agriculture.

Vilnai will retain his responsibilities for the home front, which he had as a deputy defense minister, and also replace Braverman in Minority Affairs.

Wilf -- who was not in the Cabinet -- is on maternity leave. In due course she will chair the Independence faction and the Knesset Education Committee.

The prime minister has opted to keep Welfare and Social Services Ministry, left vacant by Herzog, for Likud. At present he will fill the position and then pass it on to someone else in his party. Shas had sought this portfolio.

Simchon and Vilnai will, according to YNet, also serve as observers on the Security Cabinet. This is a Cabinet, of some 15 members, which makes some critical decisions. Had these two been placed on as voting members, it would have swayed the balance leftward in the Cabinet's decision-making process; but observers do not vote.


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution

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