The assembly of the 33rd government is nearing its end. After long and exhausting negotiations, full of speculation and suspicions between the different potential coalition members, the new ministers will eventually head to the traditional gathering at the president's residence to be photographed, assuming they have Knesset approval. Mounds of words have been written about the inconsistencies and contradictions among the different components of the government and even the possibility of requiring new elections. However, even the new Knesset knows that this isn't the time for another round of elections. At a time when there are talks of tens of billions of shekels being cut from this year's national budget, elections are unnecessary, the people have already spoken. Thus party leaders must compromise to settle the issues of principle between them, and the initial emphasis must be place on reducing the number of ministers.
It appears that the number of ministers in the new government will stand at 20, including the possibility for a slight deviation at the last minute. This is a considerably lower number than that of the outgoing government, which hovered around 38 ministers. Over the last generation, a pattern has developed: As the number of seats in the central ruling party decreases, the number of ministers increases significantly. This is due to the dependence of this main party on additional partners to form a coalition of 61 Knesset members. Prime ministers sought broader coalitions whose components would not threaten the government's integrity, but this method came with a high political price tag.
Take, for example, Ehud Barak's government in 1999: His One Israel party won only 26 Knesset seats, and his government included 24 ministers. The situation became even more extreme during Ariel Sharon's first term in 2001. The Likud had only 19 Knesset seats, so Sharon increased the number of ministers. Just two years later, the Likud won elections with 38 Knesset seats, so the number of ministers decreased. The trend repeated itself for the elections of the 17th and 18th Knessets as well.
On this backdrop, it would not be far-fetched to say that the first achievement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's third government is the reduced number of ministers. After all, during the last election campaign, not only did private citizens increasingly demand the elimination of unnecessary government spending, but commercial entities joined the call as well. Reducing the number of ministers will not be simple, but it is definitely desirable; how many of the last government's ministers were forced to give up their seats? For a politician, such a separation is difficult to deal with, as it involves a reduction in benefits, status and, most importantly, influence. Moreover, younger Knesset members in the Likud who earned high places on the party list in the primaries seek to implement their ideology, yet they also have to understand that this is the time to give up certain of their personal aspirations to invest their efforts as plenary MKs.
One of the most negative sights associated with a broad government is a second government table in the Knesset plenary. Over the next few days, if all the agreements are signed to establish the new government, plenary workers will have to move the second table back to the warehouse. This might raise our hopes that it won't come out again. And as for the reduced government? Now is the time for it to deal with the many challenges that await it, in the hope that in four years, we can say that not only was it small, but it was also efficient.
The writer is a professor at the Israel Center for Political Training.