Cabinet reshuffle delayed again

Israel will remain without a social affairs minister for yet another week.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
February 15, 2007 00:28
2 minute read.
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Israel will remain without a social affairs minister yet another week after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided on Wednesday that his long awaited cabinet reshuffle would not take place next week. Olmert's office told Labor Party officials that the reason for the delay was that he needed to focus on his visit to Turkey and his meetings next week with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Labor officials speculated that the real reasons for the delay were Olmert's desires to negotiate with United Torah Judaism, spur more infighting inside Labor, and perhaps to wait for the interim findings of the Winograd Commission that could force Defense Minister Amir Peretz to give up his job due to his role in the war in Lebanon. UTJ officials said they expected negotiations with their party to make quick progress once it was clear to party leader Ya'acov Litzman that he would have to give up the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee. UTJ MK Avraham Ravitz said Olmert wanted a wider coalition in order to pass electoral reform and the so-called Peres bill that would end secret ballot voting for the presidency. "There are contacts all the time and a solution will be found for how to [divide the remaining portfolios], but no timetable has been set about when to finish everything," an Olmert associate said. Labor faction chairman Yoram Marciano, who is handling contacts with the Prime Minister's Office on Labor's behalf, canceled a key faction meeting that had been set for Thursday and had been expected to decide which portfolio Labor would give up in return for the Social Affairs Ministry. "I am confident that in the end, our wisdom will win out and there will finally be a social affairs minister in Israel," Marciano said. Top Labor officials who consider themselves allies of Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog said they believed he made a mistake by not jumping at the Social Affairs portfolio at the first opportunity. They said they had advised Herzog to make the move and that they were surprised that he had not done so. Herzog said he believed the final decision on how Labor should handle the reshuffle would be made in Labor's executive and central committees, where he believes he has a majority that would support him holding on to his post. Former science, culture and sport minister Ophir Paz-Pines said he also believed the central committee would be forced to decide for Labor. If the matter does go to the central committee, it is possible that Peretz's opponents in the party will force him to give up his post. Minister-without-Portfolio Ghaleb Majadle said he was frustrated that he had not yet been given a portfolio. He said he blamed his own party for the stalemate. "We are embarrassing ourselves by not accepting the Social Affairs portfolio and moving on," Majadle said.

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