The Labor Faction authorized party Chairman Amir Peretz on Friday to handle all direct contacts with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert regarding the 2007 state budget. It was also decided that a discussion panel should be set up, comprised of ministers Isaac Herzog, Eitan Cabel and Shalom Simhon, and charged with the task of holding mid-level negotiations for the application of the coalition agreement for the new budget.
Peretz to PM: Fix budget or Labor bolts
Simhon said on his way out of the meeting that the decision lays the desired foundations for reaching an understanding with the Finance Ministry on the budget issue.
Outside the meeting site, a protest by the handicapped was being held, accusing Peretz of neglecting social activity.
"Ever since the establishment of the new government," said one of the demonstrators, "the Labor party has abandoned the social banner as a top priority."
Peretz responded by saying, "You have nothing to worry about. My being defense minister does not release me from my obligation to organize my social agenda. On the contrary, I intend that things should come to fruition day by day, hour by hour."
Labor threatened to quit the government on Thursday if the Finance Ministry did not agree to the party's demands ahead of next Tuesday's cabinet vote on the 2007 state budget.
"I don't have an interest in breaking up the coalition and getting a trigger-happy, right-wing government with [Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor] Lieberman threatening our neighbors," Peretz told Labor's executive Committee on Thursday. "But I want to say in no uncertain terms that we will not remain at all costs, and the prime minister must understand that Labor has red lines that we absolutely refuse to cross."
The budget has caused widespread dissent among coalition members of late, particularly Labor, Shas, and the Gil Pensioners Party.
Various factions and ministers threatened to quit earlier this week, complaining that details in Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson's budget adversely affect the socio-economic programs the parties fought over in their coalition agreements.