Ministers to retain posts despite vote

Source: Labor cabinet members who supported no-confidence motion while PM abroad will stay.

aflalo 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
aflalo 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition overcame another threat to its survival on Monday when Olmert told close confidants that he would not fire Labor Party ministers, despite their votes of no-confidence in his government. Had Olmert fired the ministers, he would have been left with a minority coalition that would have likely fallen next week. But Olmert spoke to Labor chairman Ehud Barak and they committed to continue working together. Labor ministers said they were not afraid that Olmert would fire them. In two votes on the Knesset floor, Labor ministers and MKs voted against the nominations of coalition chairman Eli Aflalo (Kadima) to head the Immigrant Absorption Ministry and Minister-without-Portfolio Ruhama Avraham-Balila to head the Tourism Ministry, even though Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar declared the votes motions of no-confidence in the government. Labor was protesting what they claimed was a dirty trick by Kadima to back out of a promise Olmert made publicly in last Sunday's cabinet meeting to appoint Labor MK Avishay Braverman to chair the powerful Knesset Finance Committee before the ministers were appointed. "Olmert's improper behavior is continuing," Barak complained to the Labor faction. "He is breaking his promise in a shameful way." The prime minister instructed Aflalo's expected replacement, MK Yoel Hasson, to try to pass Braverman's appointment on Tuesday, despite Shas's fierce opposition. "We will find a way to pass Braverman and leave Shas happy," Olmert told Hasson, but Shas officials said they would continue to block Braverman's appointment unless child welfare payments were raised. In a statement he released from Paris, Olmert said he welcomed Aflalo and Avraham's appointments. He said that if Labor had not broken earlier agreements, the clash in the plenum would have been avoided. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office took the Likud to task for violating parliamentary protocol by initiating a no confidence motion while Olmert was out of the country. "This is simply something that is not done," an official close to Olmert said. Allegations of back-room promises, disappearing opposition MKs, and parliamentary procedural drama reached their peak Monday afternoon after what was initially believed to be a procedural vote to approve two ministers' nominations ended in the Labor ministers voting no-confidence against their own government. Although the votes on Aflalo and Avraham's nominations narrowly passed by votes of 47-42 and 45-42, the coalition stood on shakier ground than ever before. The votes only passed due to the conspicuous absence of representatives of the Arab parties and with the support of all but one member of the United Torah Judaism faction and of the three Justice for the Elderly MKs, who had previously announced that they would oppose the appointments. "All these shticks and tricks show why Israeli politics look as they do in the public's eyes," MK Ophir Paz-Pines told the plenum before the vote. "When they take a person like Braverman and promise to appoint him and then break all the promises, this is an embarrassment. If you can't trust the Prime Minister's word, what can you trust?" The drama began in the early afternoon, when the House Committee met to determine the order of business for the afternoon's Knesset session. The first surprise of the day came when the Labor representatives on the committee announced that they planned on voting to block the vote for their colleague Braverman's appointment. Labor faction chairman Eitan Cabel made the decision after he realized that the current Finance Committee Chairman Stas Meseznicov was absent, and therefore the Finance Committee would not be able to approve the appointment before the plenum would vote to approve the ministers. He accused Kadima and Shas of conspiring to prevent Braverman's long-awaited appointment. MK Yaakov Margi (Shas) announced during the meeting that his party planned on opposing all of the appointments on the Knesset floor should they be put up for a vote, arguing that the deal between Kadima and Labor to give Braverman the position led to over-representation of Labor in key coalition positions. But hours after Labor teamed up with opposition parties to block the vote on Braverman's appointment, Shas announced that they were, after all, planning to vote in favor of Aflalo and Avraham-Balila's appointments. "We have succeeded until now in preventing the finance committee from going to Labor, and we will continue to succeed," said Shas Chairman Eli Yishai. "We will vote for the ministers because who Kadima's ministers are is an internal matter that we will not interfere with. But shifting the finance committee to Labor is a violation of the coalition agreement, and we will not let it happen unless child welfare payments are raised." Labor, however, cried foul. Cabel claimed that Kadima was so determined to block Braverman's nomination that they had neglected to inform Meseznicov that he would need to convene the Finance Committee. "If the ministers appointment would pass, we could find ourselves in a situation where Braverman would be left on hold and no one likes to be left on call waiting," Cabel told the Labor faction. "Everything I did was in consultation with Braverman. Whoever was surprised with our vote should know that we want Braverman to be the chairman of the finance committee, but we want it done respectfully in cooperation with the government." Herb Keinon and Damon Mathias contributed to this report.