New Government Coalition
February 2003 by Asher Intrater
Well, after a typically tormented time of trying to tie together a coalition, Sharon has established a new government. Here are some of the ups and downs of it:
The new Shinui party has 5 major cabinet portfolios, including the interior ministry and the justice department. Since they are strongly opposed to religious coercion, this could be good news for the believers in Israel. We are hopeful that the next few years will see a drop in the persecution of believers here, at least from the government side.
Netanyahu has been given the treasury department, which is the highest level position dealing with the economy. Despite the fact that there was a lot of criticism about the awkward way in which the appointment came about, it is probably good news for the country and also good news for Netanyahu himself. Israel has to take strong measures to jolt the economy out of its deep depression. The combination of Sharon, Netanyahu and Olmert to deal with the economy is a strong team. For Netanyahu, dealing with this difficult issue will put him in a better position in the long run for his political career, even though the present position will be difficult for him.
Silvan Shalom was given the position of foreign minister, generally considered to be the highest position in the whole government next to the prime minister himself. In some ways this was a very weak choice, in the sense that Silvan is inexperienced in foreign affairs, and does not carry the personal strength of someone like Peres or Netanyahu.
The choice was primarily a political one for two reasons. First, Silvan was quite loyal to Sharon during the past term when he served as the treasury secretary. Sharon felt the need to protect Silvan's honor when he replaced him with Netanyahu.
The second reason was that Silvan is "Mizrachi" in his ethnic background. There is still tension in Israel in that those of Middle Eastern Mizrachi background feel discriminated against by those of European "Ashkenazi" background. The great majority of the cabinet members are Ashkenazi. Sharon felt the need to show honor to the Mizrachi through this appointment. This was especially important since the Shas party (ultra-religious and Mizrachi), who were ousted from the government, are accusing Sharon of racism.
While this appointment seems weak, it has another benefit. It gives Sharon a close knit team in dealing with future negotiations with the Palestinians. I believe it is an indication that Sharon wants to push through some kind of settlement with the Palestinians.
Two groups have been removed from the government - the "Left" and
the "Ultra-Religious". This is also probably a good thing for Israel,
although most of the country, including myself, wanted to see a broad based
The opposition will be made up of the Labor party with 19 seats, the ultra orthodox with 16, the farther left wing Merets with 6, the Arab parties with 8, and the workers party with 3.
What is not acceptable of Arafat's proposal is that the prime minister and thereby all the government is completely submitted to the will of Arafat personally. This makes the new government proposal a joke, and in effect ridicules the demands of the Europeans for a real government to be set up. It remains to be seen if the Europeans will do anything at all to follow up on their threats against Arafat if he did not set up a true independent government.
A small sign of hope has been Abu Mazen's proposal of a one year cease fire. Again time will tell if that proposal has a practical possibility of being put into effect.
A recent report has been published by Forbes magazine states that Sadam Hussein accumulated 2 billion dollars in personal wealth! I wonder if there will be any response from the European leftists about that.
In addition, it reported that Arafat has accumulated 300 million for himself. It will be interesting to see if there will be a response from within the Palestinian community. Given the absolutely impoverished state of the Palestinians, this sum is a complete outrage. There is a lot of resentment among the Palestinians against Arafat and his team for stealing funds, instead of helping the economy.
Jerusalem was covered in a beautiful snowfall for two days, a very rare occurrence.