Olmert plans to add UTJ to coalition
Move would expand gov't to 84 MKs; PM refuses to give Labor Welfare portfolio.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
October 25, 2006 23:35
2 minute read.
Olmert mean 224.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert intends to make a serious effort over the next week to add United Torah Judaism and expand the coalition to 84 MKs, following his success in convincing Labor chairman Amir Peretz to support the addition of Israel Beiteinu, sources close to Olmert said on Wednesday.
To obtain Peretz's approval for adding Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman to the cabinet, Olmert agreed to Peretz's demands to appoint Labor faction chairman Ephraim Sneh deputy defense minister and Peretz chairman of a ministerial committee on Arabs.
"Peretz sold himself cheap," a source close to Olmert said, adding that the prime minister was not surprised by Peretz's behavior.
Olmert's associates said the prime minister appreciated that Israel Beiteinu joined the coalition for only one post of minister without portfolio for Lieberman. After paying such a low price to add Lieberman and keep Labor, Olmert now feels flexible to agree to the cost of adding UTJ.
He will meet early next week with UTJ head Ya'acov Litzman, who is set to return Thursday from China.
Because of his desire to add UTJ, Olmert refused Peretz's request to give Labor the vacant Welfare portfolio. Peretz's office released a statement saying that Olmert had agreed to give Labor the post in return for another portfolio if UTJ would not join the government in "a reasonable period of time."
But Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon said Olmert did not promise Labor the post. He said the prime minister told Peretz that the fate of the portfolio would be reevaluated if it became clear that UTJ would not join.
Shas leader Eli Yishai asked Olmert for the job for his party on Wednesday. The Gil Pensioners' Party has claimed the post and Minister-without-Portfolio Ya'acov Edri of Kadima was promised the position by Olmert if it did not go to UTJ. With so many parties wanting the Welfare portfolio, Olmert's easiest option may be to cave in to Litzman's demands.
After hearing about Olmert's decision to give the job to Labor through media sources, Edri said he believed the Welfare portfolio must stay in Kadima.
"I oppose Olmert's [reported] decision to give the portfolio to Labor," Edri said. "But the prime minister has the prerogative to appoint whomever he wants. I won't rebel against the prime minister."
Peretz convened Labor ministers late Wednesday night to report about what he had received from Olmert. In the meeting between Olmert and Peretz, Peretz told the prime minister that he would recommend to his party central committee that they remain in the coalition.
They decided that the expansion of the coalition to include Israel Beiteinu would not change the coalition guidelines, nor would the addition of Lieberman cause Peretz to lose any authority as defense minister.
Peretz requested additional funding to the Arab minority as well as raising the minimum wage, child welfare and old age payments. Olmert responded that Peretz could raise the issues between the upcoming first vote in the Knesset on the 2007 state budget and its final reading.
Olmert earned enemies in Kadima when he agreed to Peretz's request to appoint Sneh and refused to appoint a deputy minister in his own party. MK Majallie Whbee said Olmert broke a promise to appoint him as a minister and now he was breaking another promise to appoint him as a deputy minister.
Whbee reportedly told Olmert he would consider voting against the 2007 state budget and other key bills in protest. MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima) said she would not ask Olmert to appoint her because she "has self-respect."