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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
January 1 came and went Monday but there was still no social affairs minister, despite Labor's ultimatum that the party would quit the coalition and oppose the budget unless a minister was appointed by that date.
It was "very grave" that no minister had been appointed, Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel said. But a Labor leadership candidate said Labor faction chairman Yoram Marciano embarrassed Labor by "issuing empty threats and declarations that harm the party's credibility." Marciano's spokesman responded that he was "sure there will be a social affairs minister in the coming days."
Last week, a Kadima source said no minister would be appointed until former justice minister Haim Ramon's trial ends. It will then be clear if an additional portfolio would be vacant. A verdict had been expected to be delivered on January 10, but Monday's testimony could result in the trial's extension until the end of the month.
One of the women who testified on Monday was Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's adviser on haredim, Rivka Paluch, who has been involved in negotiations to try to bring United Torah Judaism into the government and receive the Social Affairs portfolio.
"If the trial is extended, it could give more breathing room for negotiations with UTJ," she said.
But according to a senior haredi official, "If it was important to the government to have a social affairs minister, they would have appointed a serious interim minister and not the busiest person in the country," referring to Olmert, who holds the portfolio.
In Monday's Kadima faction meeting, Olmert boasted of an increase in spending on socioeconomic issues to NIS 2.9 billion in the 2007 state budget. It will be voted on in the Knesset plenum in its final readings on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Olmert's spokesman, Asi Shariv, said the delay in appointing a social affairs minister was due to the budget and not Ramon. He said Olmert wanted to pass the budget before starting a coalition battle over the portfolio.
Olmert leaves for Egypt on Thursday, followed by a trip to China that ends on January 12. The earliest a minister could be appointed would be at the cabinet meeting the following Sunday, January 14.