JERUSALEM (Dec. 22)
The Knesset overwhelmingly approved the new Labor-Likud coalition government presented to it Thursday by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
The lopsided 84-19 vote of confidence was not surprising inasmuch as the new 26-member Cabinet, the largest in Israel’s history, exceeds by one the number of parliament members left in the opposition.
At least two of the four religious parties are participating in the new government. But the parties of the left and right wings will not join the coalition.
The government made its debut seven weeks after Knesset elections that failed to give any single party a governing majority.
It was a festive occasion of congratulations and no small relief that the agonizing process of coalition-building was successfully finished.
The long Knesset debate wound up with the traditional ceremony at the presidential residence, where all of the ministers posed at a photo session.
President Chaim Herzog did not hide his satisfaction with the broad government. It was his dramatic and unprecedented intervention two weeks ago that prevailed on Likud and Labor to resume their coalition negotiations, which had been given up as a lost cause.
“This broad government represents the will of the majority of the people, which seeks unity and tolerance,” Herzog declared in a toast to Shamir.
He praised the prime minister for his doggedness and ability to “understand the needs of the people.”
TWO POSTS FOR SHAS
Shamir responded by hailing Herzog’s contribution to the establishment of the new government.
The Cabinet includes 12 Likud and 12 Labor ministers. Only 11 in each party were named Thursday. The 12th slots may go to Eliahu Ben-Elissar of Likud and Ora Namir of Labor. If so, Namir would be the only woman in the Cabinet.
In addition, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party holds two Cabinet portfolios: the Interior Ministry, traditionally reserved for the religious bloc, and the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption, which Labor held in the outgoing government.
They are filled by Aryeh Deri and Yitzhak Peretz respectively.
The Religious Affairs Ministry also remains open. It could go to either Zevulun Hammer or Avner Shaki, both of the National Religious Party.
There are relatively few new faces in the Cabinet, and most are on the Likud side.
A new portfolio, minister of environmental protection affairs, was created. It was assigned to Ronni Milo of Likud, one of the newcomers.
The two other Likud newcomers are Dan Meridor, who will be minister of justice, and Ehud Olmert, who will have no portfolio.
Two new ministers were named so far in Labor ranks. Avraham Katz-Oz is minister of agriculture and Raphael Edri is a minister without portfolio.
The major change in Labor is the shift of Simon Peres from foreign minister to finance minister. He retains the rank of vice premier. The new foreign minister is Moshe Arens of Likud, who held no portfolio in the previous Cabinet.
TWO PORTFOLIOS FOR SHAMIR
Laborite Yitzhak Rabin stays on as defense minister and Yitzhak Navon of Labor continues as minister of education and culture. He will continue to hold the rank of deputy prime minister.
Haim Bar-Lev will continue as police minister; Moshe Shahal will continue as minister of energy and infrastructure; and Mordechai Gur will continue to hold no portfolio.
Ezer Weizman, who held no portfolio in the previous government, is now minister of science and development. Gad Yaacobi, formerly minister of economics and planning, is the new communications minister.
Yaacov Tsur, who was minister of absorption and immigration, is the new health minister. He replaces Shoshana Arbeli-Almoslino, who was not named to the Cabinet.
Likud is headed by Shamir who, in addition to being prime minister, will hold the labor and social affairs portfolio. Moshe Katsav, who held that post in the outgoing government, has been named transport minister, replacing Haim Corfu, who is not in the new Cabinet.
David Levy will continue to hold the rank of deputy prime minister and will retain the housing and construction portfolio. Ariel Sharon stays on as commerce and industry minister.
Yitzhak Moda’i, who was finance minister in the outgoing government, is the new minister of economics and planning. Gideon Patt replaces Avraham Sharir as tourism minister. And Moshe Nissim, who served as justice minister, will now have no portfolio.