Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's new coalition has not even been formed yet, but it already faces multiple crises, internal and external, threatening its ability to survive its four-year term.
Israel Beiteinu and Shas officials threatened Sunday not to join the government unless their coalition demands were met. At the same time, Olmert faced the first rebellion within his Kadima Party when new MK Uriel Reichman announced he was quitting the Knesset and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz threatened to do the same.
The multiple crises were ignited by Olmert's decision early Friday to give Labor chairman Amir Peretz a package of seven portfolios, including Defense and Education. Mofaz and Reichman protested the loss of the posts they coveted, while Shas head Eli Yishai and Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman upped their demands.
"It's a dramatic mistake, at such a challenging time with Iran and Hamas, to give up the Defense portfolio," a source close to Mofaz said. "We are waiting to see what Olmert will offer that will allow Mofaz to continue to contribute."
The Internal Security portfolio became available on Sunday night when Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz ruled that it could not be given to Lieberman, but Mofaz's associates said that after his years of service in the security establishment, he wanted to contribute in a new field. In a meeting with Olmert on Sunday, Mofaz reportedly asked for either the Foreign or the Finance portfolio, but Olmert did not make him a counter-offer.
Olmert was set to meet with Reichman on Sunday afternoon but Reichman canceled the meeting and called the interim prime minister to tell him that he had decided to resign from the Knesset rather than accept any post other than the Education Ministry that former prime minister Ariel Sharon and Olmert himself had promised him.
"I told my students and the public that if I will not be education minister, I will quit the Knesset and return to the presidency of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, and I must keep my word," Reichman told The Jerusalem Post. "I don't know what portfolio they wanted to sell me, but I decided that if the promise that was made to me wasn't kept, that I should keep the promise that I made to the public. It's important for me to set an example of credibility to my students and teach them that a promise is a promise."
Olmert had apparently intended to offer Reichman a new ministry-without-portfolio inside a Justice Ministry led by MK Haim Ramon, where Reichman would be in charge of drawing up a new constitution. Reichman is a law professor who founded a pro-constitution lobby, but he said that if he could not be education minister, he would best serve the public at the IDC.
Reichman, who first heard about Olmert's deal with Labor on the radio, wished Labor MK Yuli Tamir well at the Education Ministry and former Jewish Agency treasurer Shai Hermesh, next on the Kadima list, in the Knesset but he said "Olmert was mistaken" when he made the deal and gave up the portfolio.
Kadima officials had promised that portfolios would be distributed to parties at a rate of one for every 3.5 MKs, but in the deal with Labor, the rate was one for less than three mandates. Shas and Israel Beiteinu officials met late Monday with Olmert adviser Ovad Yehezkel and each demanded four portfolios, which would create a government with 29 ministers, the largest government in Israel's history.
Both parties also presented additional demands that could result in their being left out of the coalition. Shas demanded a raise in child allowances for large families. Israel Beiteinu demanded that the coalition guidelines be changed on matters connected to settlements, immigrant absorption and civil marriage.
"The chances of me joining the government are low," Lieberman told Channel 2. After Mazuz's decision that he can't become internal security minister, Lieberman released a statement to the press calling upon Olmert to appoint him to the position anyway.
Even without Israel Beiteinu and Shas, Olmert would have a coalition of 61 MKs, from Kadima, Labor, the Gil Pensioners Party and United Torah Judaism. An agreement with the Pensioners is expected to be signed on Monday.
Olmert will meet with Peretz at the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry on Monday to finalize agreement on socioeconomic issues and outstanding personal issues related to deputy ministers and Knesset committee chairmen. There is still disagreement between Kadima and Labor on raising the minimum wage and reducing the power of manpower companies.
Peretz also faced internal party challenges on Sunday from ministerial candidates who were upset by his recommendations for the cabinet posts. The Labor central committee will convene soon to decide whether Peretz should be allowed to decide on the appointments or whether there will be individual elections by secret ballot in the committee.
Meanwhile in the Likud, MK Silvan Shalom convened his associates on Sunday night to begin the process of convening the Likud central committee to try to oust Shalom's rival, Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu.
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