(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert intends to begin making phone calls on Friday to determine the demands of his coalition partners ahead of a political reshuffle in his cabinet expected next week.
Olmert wants to bring the new makeup of his cabinet to a vote at the February 11 cabinet meeting, cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon said Thursday.
The fact that Olmert is giving himself such an early deadline could be an indication that he does not intend to make a dramatic move, such as removing Labor chairman Amir Peretz from the Defense Ministry.
At a conference of local authorities in Tel Aviv on Thursday, Peretz vowed to remain defense minister. He said the system whereby security experts made recommendations and he made the final decisions worked well.
"If there is any clear conclusion from my nine months in the position," Peretz said, "it's that my civilian background was not a disadvantage in any way, but a significant advantage."
Olmert's associates denied speculation that possible appointments had already been decided. They also refuted reports in the Hebrew press that the prime minister had decided to appoint a political outsider as justice minister, such as former ministers Dan Meridor and Amnon Rubinstein or attorney Ram Kaspi.
Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center president Prof. Uriel Reichman, whose name was also raised as a possible justice minister, said he had no interest in the position.
Channel 10 reported that Olmert had decided against Meridor, because he is too close to the legal establishment and Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch. A source close to Olmert denied the report.
"No one intended to appoint Meridor as justice minister and no one ruled him out for being friends with anyone," the source said.
An Israel Radio poll broadcast on Thursday found that the public's preferred candidate for justice minister was Construction and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit. Forty percent of respondents said they wanted Sheetrit, 17% chose Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, 22.5% said none of the above and the rest declined to answer.
Sheetrit served as interim justice minister for three months before Olmert replaced him with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. He is eager to return to the position, but it is unlikely that Olmert will promote one of his critics.
"I would not have agreed to be interim justice minister [five months ago] if I didn't get a promise from the prime minister that if [former justice minister Haim] Ramon did not come back I would be able to remain in the position. But unfortunately he broke his promise," Sheetrit told Channel 10.