The appointment of Labor MK Ghaleb Majadle as Israel's first Arab and Muslim minister, which had been set to pass in the cabinet on Sunday, was postponed due to political sparring between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, as well as within the Labor Party.
Olmert complained that Peretz had decided on the appointment without consulting him and that he informed the press of the decision before the Prime Minister's Office. Olmert told Kadima ministers that he tried to reach Peretz unsuccessfully until late Saturday night.
Peretz's associates countered the allegations by accusing Olmert of delaying the appointment out of a combination of racism and a desire to help former prime minister Ehud Barak unseat Peretz, and threatened to deliver an itemized list of phone calls from Peretz's office to prove that the Prime Minister's Office was contacted before the press.
"The addition of an Arab [to the cabinet] is a significant act whose time has come," Olmert told Kadima ministers. "But the move must be made while looking at the big picture of vacancies in the cabinet and the demands of Labor and Israel Beiteinu."
Sources close to Olmert said he warned Peretz that if Majadle filled the vacancy in the Science, Culture and Sport Ministry, it would mean that Labor had abandoned its claim on the vacant Social Affairs portfolio.
Olmert's aides promised that he would finish filling the cabinet vacancies within the next week or two. But Peretz's ally, Labor faction chairman Yoram Marciano, gave Olmert an ultimatum that if Majadle was not appointed at next Sunday's cabinet meeting, Labor would leave the coalition.
"If Majadle isn't appointed by Sunday, it means Olmert has given a divorce document to Labor," Marciano said. "Lower than this, Labor cannot fall."
Another reason for the delay in appointing Majadle was that Shakeef Shanan, a Druse who would be the next candidate on the Labor list to enter the Knesset, submitted an injunction from the Tel Aviv District Court preventing the cabinet from voting on Majadle's appointment.
Shanan said Peretz had promised him that whoever was appointed to the cabinet would quit the Knesset, allowing Shanan to enter, which Majadle has refused to do.
Peretz denied that he made such a promise, but will try to meet with the two men in an attempt to settle the dispute.
Labor ministers decided to hold a festive meeting of the party's central committee Thursday to celebrate Majadle's appointment. The committee will vote on the appointment at the meeting, even though it was already passed in a telephone vote.
The ministers had complained about the telephone vote, calling it disrespectful, cheap and possibly illegal. Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel said holding the vote by telephone would save the financially-strapped party some NIS 100,000, but in light of the criticism changed his mind.
"We will waste NIS 100,000 on an obvious vote, but everyone will
be happy," Cabel's spokesman said.