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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed to take revenge against the eight Likud MKs whose votes blocked the appointments of his allies Roni Bar-On and Ze'ev Boim to the cabinet on Monday, leaving the fate of his government and his future in the Likud in question.
On Tuesday morning Boim told Army Radio that it was a personal disappointment for him, but added that he was more disappointed in the behavior of his fellow party members and in how the whole process was handled.
"I am very unhappy...this is the first time that a prime minister has appointed ministers...and members of their own party have been against it."
He went on to say that the actions of the Likud rebels was a personal vendetta against the prime minister.
Sharon brought the appointments of Ehud Olmert as finance minister, Matan Vilna'i as Science and Technology Minister, along with Bar-On and Boim's appointments in one bloc. When the appointments failed to pass in a 60 to 54 vote, he quickly convened the cabinet, which unanimously passed a proposal to appoint only Olmert and Vilna'i, who were later approved by the Knesset by a vote of 71 to 41.
Sharon was forced to split the vote since Olmert's term as acting finance minister ends November 9. If the Knesset had rejected his appointment as permanent finance minister, Sharon would have been forced to appoint another finance minister, something he was desperately avoiding ahead of the upcoming budget battle. Failure to pass the budget would cause the government to collapse and force new elections.
"In the past year and half, a minority in the coalition attempted to put spokes in the government's wheels," Sharon told the cabinet. "They succeeded here and there but the government still managed to do everything it wanted."
Sharon told the Knesset that it was unfortunate that the appointments of Bar-On and Boim that the Likud deserved according to its coalition agreements were "thwarted because of divisiveness and personal motives." He promised that there would be "consequences" against the MKs he called "so-called coalition members."
The prime minister invited Bar-On and Boim to his office after the vote. He told them that he felt uncomfortable with the way they were treated by their colleagues in the Likud.
"He promised that he would work hard to ensure that we would become ministers before the next election," Boim said. "He said he would find a way."
Sharon's associates declined to say when and how the appointments would be made or how the MKs who voted against would be punished. "Sharon isn't going to declare elections tomorrow but we have several ideas that we don't want to reveal," a Sharon associate said.
Sources close to Sharon said that the prime minister already knew last week that he would present the appointments even though they would fail. They expressed satisfaction that the only Likud MKs who voted against the Boim and Bar-On appointments were former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Yuli Edelstein, Nomi Blumenthal, Ehud Yatom, Uzi Landau, Ayoub Kara, David Levy and Michael Ratzon.
MKs Gilad Erdan and Moshe Kahlon absented themselves from the vote. Sharon's aides said that the prime minister received a commitment last week from Erdan and Kahlon not to attend the vote unless their votes in favor could allow the appointments to pass.
Asked about the fate of a proposal for a cease-fire in the Likud, a Sharon associate said that it was "dead" and that if anyone tries to raise it again, Sharon will propose the Boim and Bar-On appointments the same day.
Likud MK Michael Eitan, who drafted the proposal said that "Sharon missed an opportunity" by rejecting it. "He could have opened up a new page in his relations with the faction," Eitan said. "If he cared about peace in the faction, he'd accept my proposal."
Minister-without-Portfolio Haim Ramon speculated that Sharon's days in the Likud were numbered.
Landau said that Sharon's defeat in the vote marked "the curbing of the culture of political aggression" and "boosted clean politics."
Opposition leader Yosef Lapid (Shinui) spoke after Sharon in the Knesset and called
for early elections. "Mr. Prime minister, take advantage of this opportunity, because your government is unworthy to continue functioning," he said.
MK Avraham Poraz (Shinui) echoed Lapid saying that Sharon "was no longer an omnipotent prime minister, but rather, a defeated PM unable to function. He will do well for the State of Israel if he calls for elections."