Cabinet reshuffle delayed a week

Netanyahu vows to remain outside government; says it is damaging Israel.

Roni Bar-On 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 99)
Roni Bar-On 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 99)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided Tuesday to delay a cabinet reshuffle that had been set for Wednesday after he failed to decide between Interior Minister Roni Bar-On and MK Haim Ramon for the vacant post of finance minister. Olmert informed the High Court of Justice about the delay, because the court had ordered him to appoint a finance minister as soon as possible. Following a meeting with advisers at his Jerusalem residence, Olmert released a statement saying the consultations were still preliminary and that a new deadline of next Wednesday had been set for the reshuffle. Sources close to Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Construction and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit said they told Olmert they were not interested in replacing Bar-On as interior minister if he becomes finance minister. If both end up declining the post, it could go to Ramon or to Minister-without-Portfolio Ya'akov Edri. MKs Ruhama Avraham, Majallie Whbee and David Tal are also expected to receive promotions, with one becoming minister of Negev and Galilee Development. Labor Chairman Ehud Barak has also not decided who will be the minister-without-portfolio in charge of the Israel Broadcasting Authority. Earlier, Tuesday Olmert's office released a statement saying that no political issues were discussed in a secret meeting that he had on Sunday night with opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu. The statements said they updated each other about their recent visits to the US and "beyond that, the meetings did not deal with other issues." Netanyahu vowed to remain outside the government in a speech to the Jewish Agency Assembly. "We won't enter the government, because it is acting in a way that is damaging Israel," Netanyahu said. "We are acting to advance the election." The opposition leader criticized Olmert's decision to release 250 Hamas prisoners and said the government was not doing enough to prevent rocket attacks on Sderot. "Releasing prisoners is a mistaken message that will weaken the struggle against terror," Netanyahu said. "I don't think releasing prisoners or giving weapons will strengthen the Palestinian Authority. Abu Mazen will be hurt by such a decision. Giving them guns and releasing their prisoners is a big mistake." MK Yisrael Hason and other Israel Beiteinu MKs also criticized the decision to release prisoners but said unequivocally that their party would remain in the coalition. "We are in the government to try to prevent such decisions from being made, and we have had a significant impact," Israel Beiteinu MK Estherina Tartman said.