Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz and Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the proposed reduction of ministers and the elimination of deputy ministers in the new coalition government.
Senior Kadima officials said that they expected Olmert to reduce the number of Kadima ministers by one, for a total of 11 Kadima ministers in the government. Kadima sources saw the move as a way of encouraging the rest of the coalition partners to make do with fewer representatives in the ministries.
While Peretz may have characterized his meeting on Monday with Olmert as "good," his somber stroll through the Knesset Monday told a different story of what awaits him in the party ranks. Labor MKs confirmed that there was a "crisis" in the party over Peretz's handling of the coalition talks and the ministerial portfolios allotted to Labor. Tempers that had flared over the weekend were inflamed when the party was notified that Peretz had agreed to cancel the deputy ministerial positions.
"This is not the way to be a leader. There is a feeling that he read some of the newspapers criticizing him, and then just bowed in to the public pressure," said one veteran Labor MK.
Newspapers Monday were awash with articles criticizing the size of the government arranged by Olmert.
Although aides to Peretz said that he anticipated no problems passing the measures through the committee, several party officials appeared to be plotting behind the chairman's back to petition the committee to dismiss the recommendations.
"There are a lot of unhappy people in the party right now who are beginning to band together to take their issues to the committee," said one senior Labor official. The official added that MKs Danny Yatom, Matan Vilna'i, and Ophir Pas-Pines were among those contesting Peretz's appointments.
"Peretz got defense for himself and education for [MK Yuli] Tamir but he did not work hard to please the rest of us," said one Labor MK. In addition to obtaining the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Education, the Agriculture Ministry is slated for MK Shalom Simhon and the Ministry of National Infrastructure for Binyamin Ben-Eliezer.
The Tourism Ministry and two Ministries-without-portfolios are thought to be left to MKs Eitan Cabel, Isaac Herzog, and Ophir Paz-Pines.
"[Peretz] is clearly rewarding those who have allegiance to him, but he is also pushing away anyone that might challenge him," said one Labor official. Pas-Pines and Herzog, who were in the top five of the party's primary list were expected to receive prestigious ministerial positions, said officials close to the two.
"For Herzog to receive the number two spot on the primary list and then wind up with a Ministry-without-portfolio is unacceptable," said a source close to Herzog.
In addition to Herzog and Pas-Pines, other strong Labor personalities include newcomers MKs Ami Ayalon and Avishay Braverman. Both had appeared close to Peretz during the national elections but were reportedly fuming after not being offered a portfolio in the next government.
"Everyone knows what he is doing - distancing the people that might unseat him," said a Labor central committee member. "People may be mad, but it's also good politics on his part." Meanwhile, Labor officials close to Peretz expressed concern over the lack of a Deputy Defense Minister, as one senior MK said that Peretz could not operate the ministry without assistance.
"It would be hard enough for someone with so little military experience, as we all know Peretz to have, but to also do it without a deputyâ€¦ He is setting himself up for trouble," said Labor MK.
MK Ephraim Sneh was slated to serve as deputy minister under Peretz.