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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Labor chairman Amir Peretz does not intend to recommend a candidate to replace outgoing Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ophir Paz-Pines until at least next week, sources close to Peretz said Tuesday.
Paz-Pines's resignation will take effect at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, creating a vacancy in the cabinet. Labor Party officials spent Tuesday speculating about whom Peretz would choose, but Peretz's associates said he would take his time with the decision.
"Peretz is in no hurry to appoint a minister," a Peretz associate said. "He knows that there is no better way to keep prospective ministerial candidates obedient than to wait with a decision on who will get the job."
Speculation focused on three candidates: former prime minister Ehud Barak and MKs Matan Vilna'i and Orit Noked. Vilna'i is considered the front-runner, especially if he would be willing to quit the Knesset when he receives his portfolio to make way for the next name on the Labor list, Shakeef Sha'anan, who represents the party's powerful Druse sector.
Ma'ariv reported on Tuesday that Olmert told Labor officials he wanted Barak in the cabinet. A source in the Prime Minister's Office would not confirm the report, saying the PM would not interfere with Peretz's decision.
Labor officials who spoke with Barak on Tuesday said he would be interested in joining the cabinet as a minister-without-portfolio who would serve in the security cabinet but not have specific responsibilities. They said Barak would return from a speaking tour in the US late Thursday night and that they expected Peretz to call him by then.
"Amir Peretz knows his mobile number," a Barak associate said. "If Barak were to be just a minister in the security cabinet, he would make his presence felt. If he had been in the security cabinet before the war in Lebanon, the result would have been different."
Barak gave a speech at Indiana University on Monday amidst the hoopla about Paz-Pines's resignation, but gave no indication about his political future during the address.
"Mr. Barak didn't discuss his future at the lecture last night at all - or his present, for that matter," said Christina Stigliani, a staff writer at the Indiana Daily Student who covered the speech. "He made no mention of what he has been doing since 2001."
Channel 1 reported that Barak had decided not to seek the Labor Party leadership in the May 2007 primary, but Barak's spokeswoman said he had yet to consider whether he would run.
National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who spoke to Barak on Tuesday, said that if Barak intended to seek the Labor leadership he needed to stop making frequent trips to the US and to start campaigning for himself in Israel. Denying reports that he tried to convince Peretz to appoint Barak, Ben-Eliezer said he had not decided whom to support, let alone whom to recommend to Peretz.
The one candidate who made his future clear Tuesday was MK Avishay Braverman, who officially announced that he was not seeking the post.
Braverman said it would not be right to join the cabinet after he had called on Labor to quit the coalition to protest the addition of Israel Beiteinu.
"For me, becoming a minister now is not an option," Braverman said. "I am not interested in this position. I will be a minister in the future but I will not replace Ophir Paz-Pines."