Peretz hails victory in reshuffle

Sources close to defense minister say Olmert's government could fall soon due to the diplomatic stalemate with the Palestinians.

peretz stern 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
peretz stern 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz claimed victory in Thursday's cabinet reshuffle, but sources close to him said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government could fall soon due to the diplomatic stalemate with the Palestinians. Peretz had been pleading for Labor to be given the Social Affairs portfolio for months until Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog agreed on Thursday to trade portfolios and become social affairs minister. The party had even issued an ultimatum that it would leave the coalition if it did not receive the portfolio by January 1. But now that the cabinet reshuffle is complete, Peretz has shifted the focus of his threats to the diplomatic arena. He intends to bring his diplomatic plan for a regional peace process to a cabinet vote within a month, demand talks with Syria and insist on the removal of unauthorized settlement outposts. "The only thing that could bring down the government is if the diplomatic process remains frozen," a source close to Peretz said. "Olmert knows we have red lines. We need to form a moderate axis against extremists. When the government decided to reject the Mecca agreement, they should have considered strategically that it came from Saudi Arabia, which is a key player." Peretz considers the transfer of the Social Affairs portfolio to Labor another in a list of recent political victories over Olmert, including the appointment of Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi as IDF chief of General Staff, the selection of an anti-Kassam rocket system and the appointment of an Arab minister. The cabinet will vote as early as Sunday to approve the appointment of Minister-without-Portfolio Ghaleb Majadle as science, culture and sports minister and Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog as minister of social affairs and services, Diaspora affairs, society and the fight against anti-Semitism. Israel Beiteinu agreed to receive the Tourism portfolio and the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee in the reshuffle. But current committee chairman Ya'acov Litzman of United Torah Judaism intends to fight to try to keep his job, and Shas and Labor MKs are expected to support his efforts. The Israel Beiteinu faction will convene on Sunday to determine who will receive the two posts. MK Stas Miseznikov is expected to chair the finance committee. Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman will decide over the weekend whether to appoint MKs Estherina Tartman or Yisrael Hasson to the Tourism portfolio. Although Israel Beiteinu said all along that it would take any portfolio, a source close to Olmert revealed that Lieberman insisted on receiving an economic portfolio for his faction, a sign that the economically-minded Tartman would receive the portfolio. A source close to Peretz said that despite Tartman's recent statements against Israeli Arabs, it would be easier to sit in a government with her now that Majadle had been given a portfolio. Peretz said he was proud that Majadle had been given an operational portfolio that had nothing to do with Israeli Arabs. The appointment of Majadle, who heads Labor's Arab sector, was an important step in Peretz's reelection campaign strategy. In 10 days, the candidates for Labor leader will receive the list of the 106,739 Labor members eligible to vote in the May 28 primary. After that, it will be possible to determine whether Peretz has a chance of getting reelected due to the thousands of new members he brought into the party in the recent membership drive. Peretz reacted angrily to a report on Thursday that sources close to his competition had threatened to leave Labor if he was reelected. Labor's executive committee decided in Tel Aviv on Thursday to require all five candidates to take an oath vowing to remain in the party no matter who won. "Whoever doesn't want to accept the results shouldn't run," Peretz told the committee. "It is intolerable if people think they can only serve the party if they win and that they could threaten a split on a personal basis. I promise to stay no matter who wins."