Kadima, Labor frustrated by talks

Kadima had hoped portfolio talks would jumpstart coalition negotiations.

olmert peretz 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press [file])
olmert peretz 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press [file])
Kadima and Labor associates expressed frustration at the slow pace of coalition negotiations after little to no progress was made in four hours of talks on Thursday at the Tel Aviv office of Labor's negotiating-team head David Liba'i. Two weeks into the four that President Moshe Katsav gave Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to form a government, Kadima and Labor are still divided over the same issues they started with: raising the minimum wage and old-age payments, limiting the power of human resource agencies and the question of how specific the coalition agreement should be about Olmert's West Bank convergence plan. Kadima officials had hoped that starting to talk about portfolios while the coalition guidelines were being drawn would ignite the negotiations. But Labor's ultimatum over the Finance and Education portfolios has only added another burden to overcome before a deal can be reached. The commitment that Olmert made to Labor chairman Amir Peretz to reach a deal with Labor before any other party prevented Kadima from making progress with easier coalition partners. Representatives of other parties said they were growing restless waiting for the talks with Labor to end. Kadima officials have threatened Labor that if progress was not made next week, they would break Olmert's promise and form a coalition without Labor. While talks have not broken down to crisis level yet, both sides are afraid that this will happen ahead of an expected meeting between Olmert and Peretz next week. The head of Kadima's team, Olmert's incoming chief of staff Yoram Turbowitz, told Liba'i on Thursday that the basis for determining how many ministries each party would receive would be a portfolio for every 3.5 MKs. This would leave Kadima with eight portfolios (not including Olmert), six for Labor, three for Shas and Israel Beiteinu, two for the Gil Pensioners Party and one for United Torah Judaism. Kadima is expected to hold onto Finance, Foreign Affairs, Education, Interior, National Infrastructures and Negev and Galilee Development. Labor will be given Defense, Justice and Agriculture. Gil has already reached an agreement for the Health Ministry and a new portfolio responsible for senior citizens affairs. Shas wants the Social Affairs Ministry, which is currently controlled by UTJ deputy minister Avraham Ravitz. Ravitz said that if Shas took away the portfolio, he would be happy to be upgraded to the Construction and Housing Ministry. Ravitz vigorously denied the lead headline in Thursday's Yediot Aharonot that suggested that UTJ was demanding that child-welfare payments for the first and second child be lowered to finance added benefits for large families. He called the headline a "pogrom" and added that "some would call such a headline anti-Semitic." Israel Beiteinu wants the Internal Security Ministry for chairman Avigdor Lieberman and the Immigrant Absorption portfolio for MK Yuri Shtern. Nearly 100 Kadima activists in the Russian immigrant sector convened in Jerusalem on Thursday and demanded that Kadima keep hold of the absorption portfolio for Marina Solodkin and allow civil marriage for people unable to marry under Jewish law.