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It took almost 60 years for Israel to get its first Arab minister but it took the cabinet no more than 60 seconds to pass the appointment of Labor MK Ghaleb Majadle as a minister-without-portfolio on Sunday.
The appointment passed nearly unanimously with only Minister of Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman voting against it. The appointment is scheduled to come to the Knesset for approval on Monday.
Labor chairman Amir Peretz called the appointment "a historic step toward equality and the promotion of peace in the Middle East." He said he would meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert soon to discuss what portfolio Majadle would receive after a long-awaited cabinet reshuffle.
Too many ministers (editorial)
Olmert's associates had been saying for weeks that the reshuffle would take place after Wednesday's verdict in former justice minister Haim Ramon's sexual harassment trial, when they would be able to "see the big picture" of what portfolios would be available.
But they changed their tune on Sunday when they said it was possible that only part of the reshuffle would take place at first, while the rest would wait, perhaps until after the release of the interim results of the Winograd Commission next month. Peretz has ruled out leaving the Defense portfolio before the Winograd results were released.
When Minister-without-Portfolio Eitan Cabel said he expected that Majadle would be given a portfolio within two weeks, Olmert replied that he said it would take place "within a matter of weeks," but he did not spell out exactly how many.
If Ramon leaves the Justice portfolio, Olmert would have to fill that position, along with the vacant Social Affairs and Science, Culture and Sports portfolios and the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee. Coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki said it was likely that Labor would receive the coveted Social Affairs portfolio.
Channel 1 reported that the latest idea Olmert was considering was making disgruntled Kadima MK Marina Solodkin a minister. But Solodkin said no one had talked to her about the idea and she was not getting her hopes up. She said the only positions she was interested in were social affairs minister and immigrant absorption minister.
Sources close to Olmert denied reports of a deal whereby factions would receive better portfolios if they supported the so-called Peres bill ending secret-ballot voting for the president. Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu said if it were true, it would be "political extortion." Israel Beiteinu faction chair Estherina Tartman said her faction would meet to decide its demands for portfolios in the reshuffle. "The Labor Party has a much larger role in the cabinet than we do and we do not expect this to continue," Tartman said.
Shas chairman Eli Yishai has resisted efforts by Olmert's associates to remove him from the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry in order to offer to Peretz his portfolio along with the Social Affairs Ministry as part of a large socioeconomic ministry that would be crafted for him.
The Gil Pensioners Party has also demanded the Social Affairs portfolio. But faction chairman Moshe Sharoni said on Sunday that the party would be satisfied if the Pensioners Affairs Ministry of Gil chairman Rafi Eitan were bolstered.
Sheera Claire Frenkel contributed to this report.