JERUSALEM (Dec. 26)
The 28 members of Israel’s new Likud-Labor coalition government could hardly fit around the table in the Cabinet room when they held their first meeting Sunday.
But the session went off smoothly. The ministers managed to settle a great deal of non-controversial business at the 75-minute session.
The Cabinet consists of 12 ministers each from Likud and Labor, two from the ultra-Orthodox party Shas and two from the National Religious Party.
It is easily the largest Cabinet in Israel’s history. It is larger by three than what remains of the opposition in the Knesset.
But there were no illusions around the crowded table Sunday that the situation is a healthy one or that a country facing urgent internal and external problems can long be properly governed by such an unwieldy body.
The new Cabinet, because of its unprecedented size, has been segmented into hierarchical ranks.
Final decisions will be made by two forums, each consisting of four ministers.
The political forum, evenly divided between Likud and Labor, includes Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Vice Premier Shimon Peres, Foreign Minister Moshe Arens and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
The economic forum includes Shamir; Peres, who holds the finance portfolio; Yitzhak Moda’i, the minister for economic planning; and Commerce and Industry Minister Ariel Sharon.
Peres is the only Laborite in the economic group, but Labor is expected to have effective control over fiscal matters inasmuch as it controls not only the Finance Ministry, but the Knesset Finance Committee as well.
INNER CABINET RANKS SECOND
The Inner Cabinet, which was the top policy-making body in the previous Labor-Likud coalition, takes second rank in the new government. It has been enlarged from 10 to 12 members — six ministers from each party.
The Likud members are Shamir, Deputy Premier and Housing Minister David Levy, Arens, Sharon, Moda’l and Moshe Nissim, a minister without portfolio.
The Laborites have named only five of their members so far. They are Peres, Rabin, Police Minister Haim Bar-Lev, Education and Culture Minister Yitzhak Navon and Ezer Weizman, minister of science and development.
Three men are competing for the sixth slot: Energy Minister Moshe Shahal, Communications Minister Gad Yaacobi and Mordechai Gur, a minister without portfolio.
Last in rank are the other members of the Cabinet, the seven without portfolios being the least among equals.
The complicated ministerial setup is the result of efforts by the two major parties to protect their positions and meet their internal political needs.
There are four ministers representing the two Orthodox parties in the government. Aryeh Deri is minister of interior and Yitzhak Peretz is minister for immigration and absorption. Both are from Shas, which has a largely Sephardic constituency.
The National Religious Party selected Zevulun Hammer to continue as minister for religious affairs. His rival, Avner Shaki, was given a Cabinet seat without portfolio.
That was the result of an internal election in NRP’s Central Committee. Hammer won the portfolio with 54 percent of the vote, compared with 23.5 percent for Shaki and 16 percent for Yosef Shapira.
The vote was a blow to Shaki, a right -wing hard-liner who beat Hammer for party leader, after the venerable Yosef Burg retired. Observers said Hammer’s success seems to have halted the sharp tilt to the right by the once politically moderate NRP.