Labor Party officials expressed guarded optimism Sunday over the deal struck by their coalition negotiation team that granted the party seven ministerial posts, but failed to reach a conclusive arrangement over its financial platform.
"It's not over till it's over," said an aide close to Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz. "We have not breathed our sigh of relief yet." According to MK Shelly Yachimovich, however, Labor's acquisition of seven portfolios was not "inconsiderable." "We have taken a major role in the next government," Yachimovich said.
The agreement reached over the weekend reserved the Defense Ministry for Peretz, the Education Ministry for Tamir, and the Agriculture Ministry for Shalom Simhon. Labor will also receive the National Infrastructure Ministry, the Tourism Ministry and two Ministries-without-Portfolio.
Those last four ministries have already become a serious point of contention within the party, said several officials, as MKs Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Ophir Paz-Pines, Isaac Herzog and Eitan Cabel have begun fighting among themselves for the posts.
The Tourism Ministry and National Infrastructure Ministry are more prestigious than the Ministry-without-Portfolio positions. Peretz had dinner with Ben-Eliezer on Saturday night and apparently informed him that he wanted him to return to the National Infrastructure Ministry, although several Labor officials discredited that promise. Meanwhile Herzog appears prepared to take the position of tourism minister, although an official close to the former housing minister said that as the No. 2 on the party list, Herzog had anticipated a more senior position. Cabel and Paz-Pines were therefore expected to take the minister-without-portfolio slots. One of those portfolios was expected to evolve into Ministry of Sport, as Tamir appeared likely to relinquish that department from her control. The other ministry may become an extended Jerusalem municipality portfolio.
Meanwhile, the party was also slated to receive several deputy ministerial posts, the most important of which was deputy defense minister. While MKs Ami Ayalon and Matan Vilna'i were both rumored to be considered for the post, it appeared Sunday that Peretz would tap MK Ephraim Sneh, who served as deputy defense minister under Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak.
Some in the party spurned the arrangement, which left out many including Peretz allies Yachimovich and MK Avishay Braverman.
"Everyone is acting as though this is a set and closed deal," said MK Danny Yatom. "The party's central committee should be deciding the posts." According to internal party law, Peretz must present the central committee with a list of suggested ministerial candidates. The committee will then vote on the list and pass it as a whole or contest certain candidates. The party could also vote to pass the entire decision-making process to the committee, and ignore Peretz's decisions.
"There is no way that the committee will not approve the list," said one high-ranking Labor official. "It was made for them."
The official was referring to the inclusion of Simhon as Agriculture Minister, and Ben-Eliezer as National Infrastructure Minister. The two MKs are thought to have a particularly close relationship with the party's central committee members.
Meanwhile, Labor was scheduled to continue meeting with Kadima officials to reach an agreement over the minimum wage and the convergence plan. In exchange, Labor was expected to agree to pass a first vote on the budget, which will be the first item on Olmert's agenda.