(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert invited Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to his office on Wednesday and told her that he had decided to appoint her as justice minister or take the position himself, a Kadima official said.
For a Jerusalem Online video of events click here
According to the official, Olmert told Livni, "it's either me or you" and ruled out appointing Construction and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit, who held the portfolio on a temporary basis for the maximum 90 days that ended Thursday and had hoped to receive a permanent appointment.
The official said that Olmert, who is the subject of several investigations, essentially forced Livni to accept the job.
Livni and Olmert's spokesmen denied this version of the events that transpired on Wednesday but Sheetrit believes it and he has guaranteed that in the upcoming months, there "will not be quiet" between Olmert and the rejected minister, who has vowed to run against him for the Kadima leadership.
"Olmert has once again preferred politics over professionalism, breaking a promise to Meir Sheetrit, just like he did when he failed to appoint him finance minister," the Kadima official said.
When Olmert informed Sheetrit that he did not receive the appointment, he said the reason he appointed Livni was that he wanted to emphasize that it was temporary and that he expected the imminent return of former minister Haim Ramon, who is on trial for sexual harassment.
Sheetrit responded by saying that he had made clear to the prime minister that he was willing to quit the post the moment Ramon was exonerated.
Interior Minster Roni Bar-On, the minister closest to Olmert, said that had it appeared that Ramon would not return, the portfolio would have gone to someone else. Bar-On estimated that it would take two or three weeks before Ramon was cleared of the charges and returned to his post. Livni will remain foreign minister and hold multiple portfolios as she often has in recent years.
"Tzipi Livni is a woman of many talents who has proven her ability to hold several posts at the same time and she is seen as more of a temporary appointment than any other candidate because she doesn't want to hold the position permanently," Bar-On said.
Olmert convened his closest advisers to discuss the appointment on Tuesday night and made the decision on Wednesday morning.
Asked about whether the appointment of Livni was insulting to Sheetrit, a source close to the prime minister said: "That's life. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."
The appointment passed in the Knesset by a 34 to 14 vote and it was approved in a telephone poll of ministers. Sheetrit did not participate in either vote.
Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar said the appointment "showed disrespect to the Justice Ministry because Livni is a busy foreign minister in a government with too many ministers-without-portfolio.
Former social affairs minister Zevulun Orlev (National Religious Party) said it was more important to appoint a welfare minister than a justice minister. He said there was no one in the government to defend poor families and welfare services.
Olmert said in a meeting with National Insurance Institute officials on Wednesday that a welfare minister would be named soon. He added that the absence of a minister did not hurt government funding for the ministry.