ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | The Arik and Tommy Show 30.3.05

The Arik and Tommy Show

30 March 2005

By Yisrael Ne'eman

Arik and Tommy were just a couple of regular guys getting together to watch a Saturday night soccer game in the Jewish state. And an important game it was, after all Israel has not made it to the World Cup since 1970. Ireland scored first in the third minute and Israel only tied in the 90th. The difference is that Arik is Prime Minister and Tommy proudly carries his title of Opposition leader. By the 87th minute the game was over. For a cool 700 million shekels in reallocations Arik won himself Tommy Lapid's Shinui faction support for the 2005 state budget and hence PM Sharon broke the back of the 13 Likud rebels and any other opponents to the budget. The right wing threat to bring down the government over the budget (but really the Disengagement) failed.

Lapid may be technically betraying the Opposition but last fall Shinui as a coalition partner played a central role in preparing the capital incentive Thatcherite budget so warmly advocated by Finance Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. Tommy made one of the better deals of his life. Shinui is not only a strong advocate of the Disengagement but Arik assured him that they can do whatever they please with the money. So quite a bit will be going towards education, culture, science, research and whatever else is on the middle and upper middle class secular agenda. Truth be known, Shinui demanded funding for less than what could be considered "special interests" much to the dismay of everyone else, and they squeezed Sharon, something which the anti-Disengagement forces can only dream about. On Tuesday night the 266.6 (4.35 shekel per $) billion shekel budget passed by an overwhelming 58 – 36.

That was Sharon's second victory of the week. His first was when he crushed the "Referendum Bill". Here 27 members of his own Likud faction led by several ministers including Netanyahu lined up in favor of a national referendum to determine the fate of the Disengagement. The final vote was 72 – 39. From here the battle moves from the Knesset to the street and is expected to turn violent.

But sticking to politics for a moment, Arik decided to overplay his hand, or so they say. He "knew" he had to reward his followers and fast. Immediately he nominated ten Knesset members for government posts, seven of them from his own party. There would be three new ministers (2 from the Likud) and seven deputies (5 from the Likud). When you work for Arik the payback is quick, even too quick. Having just trimmed the budget, fought battles over social welfare programs, compromised over state funding for life saving medicines and compromised over defense spending the PM was going to award political cronies, the party faithful and coalition allies with jobs in the government apparatus to the tune of millions. The entire opposition lined up to vote against, as did members from both the Likud and Labor. The move was attacked as being "cynical" and "corrupt". A minute before the vote Sharon withdrew the motion and announced he would try again in the summer.

Did Arik really expect success in taking such a blatant move to curry favor with those who supported him against the Likud rebels? Only overworked Finance Minister Netanyahu needs a deputy minister and unfortunately he is challenging Arik for the party leadership. His protests over wasted funds were muted as he supported Sharon's move in the cabinet.

It could have worked - or maybe Arik just wanted to say "Thank You" and not pay a dime.