Peres acting PM, Lieberman his deputy

Political aides are asking two questions: Who is now Peres's deputy? Who will become third in line for the throne if Peres is elected president?

Prime Minister Shimon Peres - those four words could only be used together for two years, from 1984 to 1986, and for six months after the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. But now, thanks to a law some consider anachronistic, Peres is acting prime minister. The law requires that an acting prime minister be appointed whenever the prime minister is abroad. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who rose to his current position because he was acting prime minister under his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, gave the title of acting prime minister to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni when he became premier. Because Olmert is currently in Washington and Livni is in Los Angeles, the title of acting prime minister shifted to the next person on the political totem pole, Peres, whose permanent title is vice premier. Political aides asked officials in the Prime Minister's Office two questions on Sunday: Who is now Peres's deputy? Who will become third in line to the throne if Peres is elected president? Four men share the title of deputy prime minister: Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz; Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai (who is abroad); and Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who received the title when he joined the government three weeks ago. So who among them is next in line? According to officials in the Prime Minister's Office, the answer is none of them. They said that deputy prime minister was "a formal and not hierarchical title" and that there was no order of importance among the four men. Asked what would happen if something should happen to the 83-year-old Peres, a source in the office of cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon (who is abroad) said, "When that happens we will find a solution." One source said the Knesset would choose a temporary prime minister, a second said the cabinet would, and a third said Peres would choose his own replacement. Either way, the problem would be solved on Wednesday when Livni returns and will serve as acting prime minister until Olmert's return the following day. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office stressed that Olmert was kept aware of developments in Israel while he was en route to the US and could be reached at all times. Asked how Peres felt about being acting prime minister, his spokesman Yoram Dori said, "He doesn't feel or not feel." In his first act of independence as acting prime minister, Peres slammed Olmert's electoral reform plan, telling Channel 2's parliamentary correspondent, Amit Segal, that it was "like giving comfortable shoes to a man going in the wrong direction." Meretz faction chair Zehava Gal-On said she was disturbed by Lieberman's proximity to the Prime Minister's Office. "When a man like Lieberman can run our country, we don't look so good," Gal-On said. Olmert's "appointment of this pyromaniac as deputy prime minister was the original sin and allowing seven ministers to go abroad at one time was another sin. Sending the foreign minister alone should have been enough." Besides Olmert and Livni, the cabinet is represented at the United Jewish Communities General Assembly in Los Angeles by Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson, Education Minister Yuli Tamir, Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter and Yishai, who does not speak any English. Asked why so many ministers had to attend, Olmert told Channel 1 on the plane to the US, "American Jews contributed so much money to Israel so we decided not to decline their requests for each minister to attend." The Knesset will also be represented at the event by several legislators, including opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu, Kadima MK Yoel Hasson and Likud MK Gilad Erdan. Channel 1 reported that Olmert, Livni, Herzog and Netanyahu have all requested personal meetings with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Labor-Meimad MK Michael Melchior, who as deputy Diaspora affairs minister was the only representative of the government at last year's GA, said he decided not to attend this year because with so many Israeli politicians present, he would be superfluous. He pointed out that none of the seven ministers attending hold the title of Diaspora affairs minister, a job that does not exist in Olmert's government.