How did the gov't survive the week? MKs want answers

Skeletons seem to be tiptoeing out of the closet to counter Ramon's denial of secret deals.

ramon hand on head 224 8 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ramon hand on head 224 8
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In the aftermath of a surprise no-confidence vote earlier this week that the government only narrowly survived, skeletons seem to be tiptoeing out of the closet to counter Assistant Prime Minister Haim Ramon's claim Monday that no secret deals had been made to keep the struggling coalition afloat. Meretz chairman MK Haim Oron was still awaiting an answer Thursday from both Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz and Knesset legal adviser Nurit Edelstein regarding his request that they look into whether Ramon had been less than honest in his statements. Oron cried foul during the tense no-confidence vote Monday, asking Ramon - the highest-ranking member of the cabinet present - whether any deals had been made. Clause one of the Government Law of 2001 mandates that the coalition must divulge any promises made to factions as part of coalition-forming, approving ministerial appointments or passing no-confidence votes. Earlier in the day on Monday, rumors had begun to circulate that Kadima had begun to court support among other parties out of fear that their major coalition partner Labor was going to vote against the nominations of MK Eli Aflalo and Inter-Ministerial Coordination Minister Ruhama Avraham. The second-largest party in the Knesset was angry that the two nominations were up for a vote while the appointment of MK Avishai Braverman (Labor) to chair the finance committee fell once again by the wayside. "Even before the vote, the air was full of stories," said Oron. Oron asked Ramon twice about rumors of deal-making, and then re-directed his question to Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On. "Usually deals for these kind of things involve budgetary agreements," explained the seasoned parliamentarian. But Bar-On also answered in the negative. The vote was held and the two appointments were approved, but eyebrows were raised at the sudden disappearance of nine out of the ten Arab party MKs, as well as decisions by opposition parties United Torah Judaism and Justice for the Elderly to support the appointments. But it was one day later that the alleged deals began to come in out of the cold. Less than twenty-four hours after the critical vote, coalition chairman MK Yoel Hasson requested a vote on a revision to a law sponsored by Justice for the Elderly faction chairman Moshe Sharoni to ensure that benefits for the elderly would be pegged at 20 percent of the average national monthly income. The bill passed the Labor, Welfare and Health committee on Monday, hours before the no-confidence vote on the Knesset floor, but in the revote, the coalition rescinded their support for the bill. The GIL Pensioner's Party, which had previously described the passing of the bill as a "victory" for the party voted against the revision. Sharoni, a legislator known for his fiery tongue, did not take the slap in the face lying down. "I'm going to talk to Aflalo," he raged after the vote. "I'll spit in his face, even in front of people." He described the vote as an "embarrassment and a humiliation" after the coalition had promised to support his bill in exchange for a vote for the nominations. It was after Sharoni's very public comments pointing towards the fact that a deal did, after all, exist, that Oron submitted two copies of a request for a probe - one to Knesset Legal Advisor Nurit Edelstein and one to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz. Oron said that he had not received an answer to his request, even though he suspects that at least an ethics citation is in order if the allegations of unreported deal-making are proven true. "Perhaps Mazuz will decide there should be a probe, or maybe he will say that he has no interest in the matter because it is an internal Knesset issue. "In that case, it falls under the jurisdiction of Edelstein. But if Edelstein says that it is a criminal violation, then it is in Mazuz's province," Oron explained Thursday. Oron added that it is not just the alleged deal with the Justice for the Elderly that should be examined, but also claims that the Arab parties absented themselves after the coalition had agreed to a 180-degree turn on the issue of dissolving unifications of Arab municipalities, an issue considered critical in their sector. "Whenever the coalition is weak, this kind of phenomenon, of deal-making, budgetary games and trade-offs, becomes more and more common," Oron complained. "But this is not a simple political situation. This is the selection of ministers and a no-confidence vote, and the law I cited exists specifically for these special circumstances."