Coalition talks shift to portfolios

Peretz may prefer socioeconomic portfolio instead of defense if denied Treasury.

olmert peretz 298 (photo credit: Associated Press)
olmert peretz 298
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Coalition talks between Kadima and Labor will shift to the next stage Tuesday when representatives of the two parties meet to discuss for the first time the portfolios that Labor will be given in Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government. Nearly all the differences between Kadima and Labor over the coalition's guidelines have already been worked out. The only major issue remaining is Labor's demand to raise the minimum wage by NIS 500 by September. Kadima has agreed to a NIS 250 raise and the final amount is expected to be somewhere in between. The next disputes are expected to be over the Finance and Education portfolios. Labor chairman Amir Peretz told reporters in the Knesset on Monday that he would insist on controlling the Treasury. His associates said that if he is not made finance minister, he may prefer to be given another socioeconomic portfolio instead of the Defense ministry. Members of Kadima's negotiating team said they were instructed by Olmert that the only portfolio not to be discussed in the coalition talks was the Education ministry, which former prime minister Ariel Sharon promised to MK Uriel Reichman. Peretz feels an obligation to obtain the portfolio for his political ally, MK Yuli Tamir. "There are many portfolios we want to keep and we have many desires, but we will first hear the other parties' demands and then we will go back to Olmert who will decide," Kadima team member Eyal Arad said. "We do not feel pressured or worried about keeping the Education portfolio. We know we need to keep it and we will work it out." Talks between the heads of the Kadima and Labor negotiating teams, Yoram Turbowitz and David Liba'i respectively, will continue for the next week. At the end of the negotiations, Olmert and Peretz are expected to meet to make the final portfolio decisions. Negotiations will also be held this week with other parties in smaller delegations to discuss portfolio issues. Shas is demanding the Interior portfolio, Israel Beiteinu internal security and the Gil Pensioners Party control of the Health ministry. "By the end of the month, the talks will be done and there will be a government," said Liba'i, who is going abroad on April 27 and must sign a completed coalition deal by then.