Amir Peretz 298.88.
(photo credit: Ori Porat)
Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz on Monday found an innovative way to inform Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog that he may have to give up his job.
Peretz told the Labor faction he had already given Herzog's portfolio away in October when he met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, before Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman joined the government. He said he told Olmert then that he would give Kadima the Tourism Ministry in return for the Social Affairs portfolio.
"This is the first time I've heard anyone say clearly that an agreement had been reached about the Tourism portfolio," a frustrated Herzog told the faction in response.
Herzog later checked with officials in the Prime Minister's Office who denied what Peretz said. Kadima officials later denied another claim by Peretz that the coalition agreement with Labor states that Labor would receive the Social Affairs portfolio in return for the Tourism Ministry if coalition talks between Kadima and United Torah Judaism did not bear fruit.
"I am not the problem here," Herzog said. "This was the first time Peretz even talked to me about my portfolio. All this talk is premature because Kadima is still fantasizing about adding UTJ to the coalition."
UTJ MK Moshe Gafni said he met with Olmert's aides on Monday and discussed the possibility of joining the coalition. But he said Kadima had not made progress toward meeting UTJ's demands of improvements in haredi education and an increase in child welfare allowances.
"The government is not antireligious, so there is no reason not to join it," Gafni said. "But I don't see it happening because the prime minister has handled things like a schlemiel [habitual bungler]. I don't see anything dramatic happening in the next few days to change things, and that's too bad."
Olmert's aides said if UTJ does not join the coalition, the most likely scenario was that Labor would receive the Social Affairs Ministry in return for the Tourism portfolio. They said they would prefer if Labor decided to give up a more senior portfolio, like National Infrastructures, and that Tourism was the least prestigious portfolio they would be willing to accept.
"[Herzog] has a reason to worry in his party," an Olmert associate said. "We haven't changed our minds about what we are willing to take."
Olmert's associates said they did not believe the coalition reshuffle would be brought to a vote at next week's cabinet meeting. But they denied reports that Olmert intended to stall the reshuffle until after the publication of the Winograd Commission's report on the Lebanon war, in hopes of deposing Peretz.
The Labor faction asked National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon to negotiate with Olmert to try to persuade him to take the Science, Culture and Sports portfolio from Labor instead of the Tourism Ministry. The faction will likely meet again on Wednesday at Herzog's request to discuss the fate of his ministry.
Kadima officials said in the event that Labor does exchange the Tourism portfolio for the Social Affairs Ministry, Herzog would likely become social affairs minister, and Minister-without-Portfolio Ghaleb Majadle would become science, culture and sports minister. In such a scenario, the vacant Diaspora Affairs portfolio may also be given to Herzog to help sweeten the pill, they said.
"I would be willing to take any portfolio as long as it's decided this week," Majadle told the Labor faction. "This situation can't drag on much longer, because it's disrespectful to me, to the faction and to the country."