peretz vilnai shake 298..
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz met Wednesday at the Knesset with MK Matan Vilna'i, the front-running candidate for the cabinet vacancy created by Monday's resignation of Science, Culture and Sport minister Ophir Paz-Pines.
A spokesman for Peretz denied reports that Peretz offered Vilna'i the position, but said the matter was seriously discussed in a "positive" hour-long meeting. Peretz and Vilna'i agreed to meet again in the near future to continue their conversation, the spokesman said.
Vilna'i is considered one of Peretz's harshest critics. He ran against him for the Labor leadership last year and later endorsed Shimon Peres in an effort to prevent Peretz's election. Ahead of the war in Lebanon, Vilna'i slammed Peretz for accepting the Defense portfolio and warned that Israel was in danger with him in the position.
Peretz reportedly asked Vilna'i if he would quit the Knesset upon joining the cabinet to make way for the next name on the Labor list, Shakeef Sha'anan, who represents the party's powerful Druse sector. Vilna'i, who quit the Knesset in his first term in 1999, reportedly responded that he would only quit if all Labor ministers would resign.
The Labor leader met earlier Wednesday with MK Avishay Braverman and asked him whether he would consider a cabinet position. Braverman replied that because he opposed the addition of Israel Beiteinu to the coalition, it would be "inappropriate" for him to become a minister.
"I am a man who sticks to his word and his path," he said. "I opposed the expansion of the coalition and I will continue to oppose Labor sitting in the government."
Peretz is also expected to meet with MK Orit Noked and former prime minister Ehud Barak after the latter's return from the United States late Thursday. Noked, who represents the kibbutz movement in Labor, said she was very interested in the position.
Barak was set to deliver an address in Whippany, New Jersey, Wednesday night to an audience of more than 500 donors of $1,000 or more to the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest, New Jersey.
An adviser to Peretz said he recommended against adding Barak to the cabinet because he was a candidate to challenge Peretz for the Labor chairmanship and he would undermine his leadership. Polls published last week found that Barak would beat Peretz in a one-on-one race.
Meanwhile, a Ma'agar Muhot poll, sponsored by the Sderot conference and published Wednesday, found that Israelis considered Prime Minister Ehud Olmert the country's most corrupt politician. A poll taken ahead of last year's conference found that Israelis considered then-MK Omri Sharon the most corrupt politician.
A separate poll taken by the same organization found that Kadima voters preferred that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni or Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz be the party's prime ministerial candidate in the next election and not Olmert.
The poll found that 34 percent preferred Livni, 23% Mofaz, 22% Olmert, 12% Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit and 9% Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter. The poll did not include one of the other top figures in Kadima, Vice Premier Shimon Peres.