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The appointment of Ghaleb Majadle as Israel's first Arab and Muslim minister is not expected to come to a vote in Sunday's cabinet meeting, despite the Labor central committee's decision to allow party chairman Amir Peretz to nominate him.
Peretz's associates vowed he would fight Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to ensure that Majadle's appointment as science, culture and sport minister would not be delayed.
"If Olmert doesn't bring Ghaleb's appointment to a vote on Sunday, he is giving into the racism of [Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor] Lieberman," a Peretz spokeman said on Thursday.
Peretz saw it as a vote of confidence in his leadership that he succeeded in winning Thursday's central committee vote, despite his political rivals allegedly working against him and a microphone-grabbing incident that marred the event at Tel Aviv's Beit Hahayal.
Sources close to Olmert said he did not want to make any changes in the cabinet until after the appointment of a new chief of General Staff and the Ramon verdict, when "the big picture" of cabinet vacancies would be clear and a reshuffle of portfolios was likely.
They rejected the charge of racism as "nonsense" on Peretz's part.
The fight between Olmert and Peretz over the appointment of a science, culture and sport minister could complicate the far more critical appointment of the next IDF chief of General Staff. Olmert's and Peretz's associates had been boasting of newfound "cooperation and synergy" that would repair months of sparring between the two men.
Peretz also lashed out at former prime minister Ehud Barak and MK Ami Ayalon, whom he accused of working against Majadle in the central committee. He said his two main competitors for the Labor leadership asked central committee members loyal to them to help defeat the proposal, resulting in it passing by a slim margin of 28 votes, with 253 members in favor and 225 against.
Barak's spokeswoman ridiculed Peretz's allegations, saying he did not attend the event because of laryngitis and accusing Peretz of blaming all of his woes on Barak.
Ayalon's aides said he was far too busy on Thursday to work for or against Peretz's proposal.
But Peretz's associates rejected Barak's and Peretz's "excuses." "Barak ran away, as he usually does, but he sent his goons to work against us," a Peretz associate said. "Ami Ayalon refused to speak at the event, as if he has no opinion. What wonderful candidates: one who runs away and the other, whose cat got his tongue."
A Labor official who does not support any candidate said the reason the vote was so close was its wording. The text asked central committee members to abdicate their authority to choose ministers in favor of the party chairman, something central committee members are loathe to do. The official said that even supporters of Peretz voted against the proposal for that reason.
Prior to the vote, the leader of Labor's Druse sector, Shakeef Shanan, raised a ruckus when he stormed on stage and tried to grab a microphone from Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel. The incident reminded central committee members of a similar incident in the same auditorium in 2005, when Barak grabbed a microphone away from former minister Moshe Shahal.
Shanan later apologized for the incident. He said he was trying to prevent Cabel from blocking a secret-ballot vote on the proposal. But Cabel said he had intended to allow the secret-ballot vote all along.
If the proposal to allow the central committee to select the new minister had passed, Shanan intended to run against Majadle for the position. Shanan protested that Majadle would not agree to quit the Knesset upon joining the cabinet to allow him to enter the legislature as the next name on the Labor candidates list.
Majadle gave the central committee members an ultimatum: If they did not allow Peretz to appoint him, he would not run for the position in a central committee vote. He said if that if his appointment were blocked, it would harm the party's image among Arabs, who are Labor's second-largest sector.
"This is a celebration for the Labor central committee and for all of Israel," Peretz said after the vote. "It will promote understanding and coexistence with Arab Israelis. This step will bring momentum to peace in the Middle East."