New coalition appointments expected this week

Ruhama Avraham to get Tourism portfolio, Eli Aflalo slated to become Galilee development minister.

ruhama avraham 224 88 (photo credit: Courtesy: Knesset Web site)
ruhama avraham 224 88
(photo credit: Courtesy: Knesset Web site)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to make a series of political appointments this week to strengthen his coalition amid the ongoing criminal investigations against him and the diplomatic talks with both the Syrians and the Palestinians. Olmert has intended for weeks to appoint Minister-without-Portfolio Ruhama Avraham (Kadima) to fill the vacant Tourism portfolio, coalition chairman Eli Aflalo (Kadima) as minister of Negev and Galilee development and Labor MK Avishay Braverman as Knesset Finance Committee chairman. The main problem blocking the appointments has been Shas, which is concerned that Braverman will block funding that has been allocated by the committee for the party's pet projects. In an effort to placate Shas, Olmert's associates last week offered the party a deputy minister in the Housing Ministry, which Shas turned down. Instead, the party has insisted on an increase in child welfare payments, which Labor has in the past opposed, but now might be willing to accept due to the peace talks with Syria. "If we take the money for the salary, office, car and staff of a deputy minister and instead use it to raise the child welfare payments, we will be satisfied," a Shas source said. Unlike Labor, Kadima and Shas officials expressed optimism that a deal could be reached to bring the appointments to a vote in the Knesset on Monday. A telephone vote of cabinet ministers could be conducted earlier that day. But Olmert faces another problem in Immigrant Absorption Minister Ya'acov Edri, who also holds the Negev and Galilee Development portfolio and is reluctant to give it up. Edri received the portfolio during the last round of political promotions as compensation for not getting the Interior portfolio he had requested. "It is wrong to keep changing ministers in such a sensitive portfolio [Negev and Galilee Development]," Edri said. Likud faction chairman MK Gideon Sa'ar sent a letter to Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz last week asking him to look into whether or not the government was in violation of the law in failing to appoint a permanent tourism minister within three months of the previous minister's resignation. The ministry was vacated when Israel Beiteinu left the coalition on January 16. According to the law, ministries may be run by temporary replacements for up to three months after the resignation of a minister - a period that, in this case, ended in mid-April. Sa'ar, whose office has suggested that the reason for a lack of a vote on new permanent appointments is due to instability within the coalition, called upon Mazuz to clarify who has been signing on decisions requiring ministers' signatures since the three-month period concluded. On Saturday night, Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman sent Shas chairman Eli Yishai a letter, criticizing him for remaining in the government despite his promises to leave if negotiations were held on the core issues of the conflict, and warning that he would be held "directly responsible" for any harm that comes to Israelis as a result of the negotiations that the government is currently conducting with Syria, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. Lieberman called upon Yishai to leave the government immediately and to join in setting an agreed upon date for the next election.