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The Labor Party on Monday warned Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that if he does not appoint a social affairs minister by January 1, Labor ministers will quit the coalition.
Labor faction chairman Yoram Marciano, a close ally of Labor chairman Amir Peretz, said it did not matter whether the minister appointed was from Labor as long as the vacant portfolio was filled.
"We can no longer ignore the poverty reports and the current dreadful reality," Marciano told the faction. "The fact that there hasn't been anyone in the portfolio for two years shows that the government doesn't care.
"A month is a reasonable time for a deadline that would show the prime minister that we are serious and that we are not trying to instigate a coalition crisis, but to genuinely help the weakest sectors of the population."
After the meeting, some Labor MKs said it had been wrong to issue an ultimatum. Sources close to Peretz said he made a point of being late for the meeting because he didn't want to sit next to Marciano when he issued the threat.
A source in the Prime Minister's Office mocked the ultimatum, saying Labor could have the portfolio in place of Defense or Education.
Marciano reacted angrily to this, saying: "The Prime Minister's Office should stop playing games, stop making the Social Affairs Ministry into a joke and appoint a social affairs minister immediately."
Gil Pensioners Party faction head Moshe Sharoni on Monday demanded the portfolio for party chairman Rafi Eitan. The portfolio is also being sought after by Shas, Israel Beiteinu and Minister-without-Portfolio Ya'acov Edri of Kadima.
Coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki said he agreed with Marciano that there should be a social affairs minister and that it did not matter what party the portfolio went to. He met on Monday with United Torah Judaism head Ya'acov Litzman, whose faction is to receive the portfolio if it joins the coalition.
Yitzhaki expressed doubt that this would happen, saying no progress had been made in negotiations with UTJ. Yitzhaki said he was not concerned about Labor's ultimatum because "January 1 is a long way away."
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