Shalom backs down and enters gov't

Supporters say he will 'avenge his humiliation' by Netanyahu; PM grants his rival another portfolio.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
April 1, 2009 02:50
2 minute read.
shalom 88

silvan shalom 248 88 aj. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

A mini-drama inside the Likud ended on Tuesday when Silvan Shalom, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's political rival, accepted Netanyahu's offer to join his government as his 30th and final minister. Shalom's surrender to Netanyahu came after a 30-hour standoff in which the two refused to speak to one another despite sitting in Knesset offices only meters apart. Numerous mediators went back and forth between the two until they reached a deal that was finalized in a long-awaited "summit" lasting only 20 minutes. The deal-breaker was Netanyahu's decision to add the Negev and Galilee Development portfolio to his offer of the reconstituted Regional Cooperation portfolio, as well as the honorary title of vice premier. All three of these roles were created for President Shimon Peres during his final years in politics. "The Negev and Galilee Development Ministry is an existing and active ministry," Shalom said when justifying his decision. Another reason he cited for joining the government was that Netanyahu had agreed to include him in the inner security cabinet - a decision that angered Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who had been told by Netanyahu that only five ministers would serve. Netanyahu ultimately appointed nine, and later told Lieberman that some would be removed. While Shalom appeared to be pacified, his supporters in the Likud faction and central committee said he was still very angry at Netanyahu for breaking his promise to appoint him to the Likud's top portfolio, the Finance Ministry, which went to Netanyahu confidant Yuval Steinitz. "Bibi will definitely get what he deserves for abusing Silvan," a Likud MK said. "He still feels hurt because Bibi humiliated him. The question Silvan faced was whether to take revenge against Netanyahu as an MK or a minister in charge of nothing, and he chose the second option." Steinitz received the Finance portfolio in a meeting with Netanyahu at the Knesset that lasted from 2 to 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday. Likud MKs criticized the appointment, accusing Netanyahu of repeating the mistake of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who appointed his close confidant, Avraham Hirchson, as finance minister. That appointment forced Olmert to appoint Amir Peretz as defense minister and caused many other problems. Hirchson is now on trial for embezzlement. Netanyahu reassured skeptical business leaders that he would be a "super-minister for economic strategy" above Steinitz and would head the economic cabinet that is normally headed by the finance minister. Netanyahu also had to appease Lieberman on Tuesday after reports that the Likud would expect the Foreign Affairs portfolio back should a criminal indictment force Lieberman to quit. Netanyahu reportedly even promised Shalom that he would be given the job. An Israel Beiteinu spokeswoman said the Likud's assumption that the Foreign Ministry would soon be vacated was "severely hampering the ability of the Netanyahu government to function, even before it has been built. In any case, if the portfolio goes to the Likud, Israel Beiteinu will leave for the opposition." Lieberman is under investigation for bribery, fraud, breach of trust and violations of money-laundering laws. Israel Beiteinu stressed that its leader would complete a full term in the ministry, pointing to the protracted nature of the police investigations against him. "Anyone relying on the assumption that Lieberman will be ousted due to the investigation must consider that it will take at least 13 years," the spokeswoman said. Jonny Hadi contributed to this report.


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