Boim: Opposition in Knesset down to 60

PM still trying to obtain support for Monday vote on ministerial appointments.

Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim said Saturday that the number of MKs who planned to vote against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's proposed new ministerial appointments had diminished to 60. Last week Sharon was far from having majority support for the appointment of Boim as Absorption Minister, Roni Bar-On as Industry and Trade Minister and Ehud Olmert as the permanent Finance Minister. The Knesset is set vote on the appointments on Monday. The vote was postponed by a week last Monday after Sharon faced a potentially humiliating defeat of his proposed appointments. Since then, the prime minister's camp has been negotiating with the Likud rebels in a concerted effort to garner support for the appointments. During a "Cultural Saturday" conference in Beersheba, the deputy minister noted that efforts were continuing to convince Likud rebel MKs to vote in favor of the appointment. "The way that the rebels vote could in the end lead to early elections and could have long-term ramifications for the Likud party," Boim warned Saturday. He blamed this partially on Sharon however, criticizing him for not making more efforts to reconcile with the party rebels, after the split in the Likud deepened exponentially over Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria this summer. Mediating between the two sides, MK Gideon Saar and MK Michael Eitan met with Binyamin Netanyahu and rebel leader Uzi Landau last week to broker an agreement, and they are set to meet with Sharon on Sunday. The Industry and Trade portfolio is a significant promotion for Bar-On, a freshman MK, who first gained notoriety when former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu unsuccessfully tried to appoint him as attorney-general. If the appointment is approved, Bar-On will control a budget of more than 3.5 billion shekels. Boim has experience absorbing immigrants as the former mayor of the southern development town of Kiryat Gat. His family even "adopted" an immigrant from Russia and has helped him for years. On Thursdsay Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said that he would not try to force Sharon to split the vote on the ministers and prevent his government from falling. Knesset legal advisers indicated that Rivlin had a right to demand that Sharon separate the vote on appointing acting finance minister Olmert in a permanent capacity from the appointments of Bar-On and Boim. The Olmert vote is key because Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz has ruled that if Olmert is not appointed by Wednesday, the position will not be able to be filled under the current government. Last week Sharon's associates confirmed a report that the prime minister would determine whether to seek elections or split his party based on the results of Monday's Knesset vote on the ministerial appointment. Sources close to Sharon revealed last week that the prime minister was considering initiating early elections and leaving the Likud if Netanyahu and the Likud rebels continued to oppose key legislation.