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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The new year welcomed yet another new face to the cabinet, as defeated Labor leadership candidate MK Ami Ayalon was approved by the government as a minister-without-portfolio at Sunday's meeting.
Ayalon will not officially assume the position until the Knesset votes on his appointment after it returns from recess late next month. According to a deal worked out with Labor Party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Ayalon will serve in the security cabinet and as chairman of the ministerial state control committee.
As chairman of the committee, Ayalon will have the clout to oversee the rehabilitation of the home front, an issue he has been vocal about since shortly after the Second Lebanon War.
He will be the 26th minister in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government, making it the largest cabinet in Israel's history.
Ayalon lost the Labor leadership race runoff to Barak in June. At the time, he swore he would never become a minister-without-portfolio.
Over the weekend, a Labor official close to Ayalon said he had changed his mind due to "the circumstances surrounding the government's current diplomatic path."
"Considering the historic diplomatic steps being taken with Israel's neighbors and with the Palestinians, [Ayalon] felt that it was more important to be a player working within than an opponent objecting from outside the cabinet," the party official said.
Ayalon's appointment was approved by Barak despite harsh criticism Ayalon had leveled against the Olmert administration during the Labor primary, when he said he would try to topple the government.
In a statement by the Defense Ministry Wednesday, Ayalon expressed gratitude to Barak and vowed to support the Labor party chief in the next prime ministerial elections.
"For the State of Israel to have a better future and a new agenda in all aspects of life, it is vital that Barak form the next government and lead it," said Ayalon.
The 52-year-old Ayalon is the former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Meanwhile, Kadima MK Shlomo Breznitz, a 71-year-old psychology professor, informed Olmert on Wednesday of his intention to retire from the Knesset. Breznitz would be replaced in the Knesset by Kadima director-general Yohanan Plesner. The Harvard graduate has spent the last year creating Kadima's party institutions.