Labor warns PM not to renege on Welfare portfolio

Faction head Marciano: If party not given post, it will be "violation of promise" Olmert made.

peretz to labor mtg 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
peretz to labor mtg 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Labor faction chairman Yoram Marciano warned Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Saturday night that Labor would insist on receiving the Social Affairs portfolio in the reshuffle of cabinet posts expected over the next week or two. Channel 2 reported that Olmert had already made a decision that Labor would not be given the portfolio, due to the party's reluctance o give up another socioeconomic portfolio in return. The prime minister has been social affairs minister since his government was formed out of hopes that United Torah Judaism would eventually join the coalition. "If Olmert does not give us the portfolio, it would be a violation of a promise that he made to Labor," Marciano said. "But I will not make any threats or declarations." Marciano demanded that the Labor central committee convene immediately to decide which portfolio the party would give up in order to receive the Social Affairs Ministry. He warned Labor ministers that "if one of them did not agree to give up his portfolio, Labor would be giving up everything it stands for." When Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman joined the cabinet in October, Labor chairman Amir Peretz said Olmert had promised Labor the Social Affairs portfolio to sweeten the pill. But Olmert's office has consistently denied that a promise was made. Olmert started discussing possible cabinet appointments in a meeting with his advisers on Thursday night, and he is set to continue consultations on Sunday. Sources who participated in the meeting said no final decisions had been made yet on any portfolio. The prime minister is seriously considering appointing someone from outside politics to replace Haim Ramon as justice minister. Names that have been raised include former education minister Amnon Rubinstein and attorney Ram Kaspi. But Olmert has also not ruled out promoting the closest minister to him in the cabinet, Interior Minister Roni Bar-On. Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz told Yediot Aharonot on Friday that he would not object to the appointment of Bar-On, despite the scandal that prevented him from being appointed attorney-general in 1997. "There is no formal reason not to [appoint Bar-On]," Mazuz said. "Bar-On was not convicted. The case against him was closed because he was not guilty." In a speech to party activists at a tree-planting event at the "Kadima Forest" in the Negev on Friday, coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki expressed confidence that the reshuffle would stabilize the coalition and enable the implementation of the government's plans on diplomatic, security and socioeconomic issues. Minister-without-Portfolio Ghaleb Majadle, who is set to attend his first cabinet meeting on Sunday, already issued his first threat to resign over the weekend, telling Arab media outlets that if the peace process were not renewed, he would not remain in the cabinet. Majadle is set to visit Jordan soon at the request of King Abdullah. Seven Arab MKs from the United Arab List, Hadash and Labor began a two-day visit to Jordan on Saturday at Abdullah's invitation. The MKs met on Saturday with Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdelelah Al-Khatib and they are set to meet on Sunday with Abdullah and with Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit. Labor MK Nadia Hilu said she would also meet with Jordan's female members of parliament. Hilu said Khatib wanted to encourage meetings between Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian peace activists. Balad MKs were also invited to Jordan but they decided not to come to protest the invitation made to Hilu. Hilu will return to the Knesset on Monday for what is expected to be a tight race in the Labor faction over who will replace Majadle as the head of the Knesset Interior Committee. Hilu has Peretz's support in a race against MK Ophir Paz-Pines. Labor leadership candidate Ami Ayalon endorsed Paz-Pines on Saturday night in the race for the committee chairmanship. Ayalon hopes that Paz-Pines will eventually drop out of the Labor leadership race and endorse him.