Peretz wins party backing on budget

Vote deferred to Monday; Knesset passes NIS 2b. in budget cuts to pay for war.

peretz - rabin mem298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
peretz - rabin mem298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Knesset Finance Committee's passage of the NIS 2 billion in budget cuts needed to finance the war in Lebanon appeared to have a majority on Wednesday night after Labor chairman Amir Peretz succeeding at quelling a rebellion in his party. Minister of Finance Abraham Hirshon and Amir Peretz decided that the vote on budget cuts planned for Thursday would be postponed until Monday. The committee was to meet at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on Thursday for a third attempt at passing the cuts. Coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki called upon Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to replace Labor in the coalition after two Labor MKs refused to support the cuts on Tuesday. In an impassioned speech to his faction at Labor's Tel Aviv headquarters Wednesday night, Peretz called for the party to unify in support of the cuts. "The faction must decide whether or not we are a partner of the coalition and the government," Peretz said. "Only the Labor central committee can decide that we are no longer a part of the government." Labor decided by a vote of nine to three to impose discipline on its representatives on the finance committee to support the cuts. But the decision was conditioned on Peretz meeting with Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson to consider different changes in the budget to finance the war instead of the budget cuts. Peretz had suggested temporarily replacing the two Labor MKs on the committee who opposed the cuts, Avishay Braverman and Shelly Yacimovich, but the two refused. Braverman told the faction that Labor should remain in the coalition but continue to vote for what the party believes in. "If Peretz intends to replace me, I have to warn him that there could be a boomerang event," said Braverman, who intends to run against Peretz for the Labor leadership. "People who start replacing can end up getting replaced themselves." Labor MK Matan Vilna'i, who is also a Peretz opponent, said on a visit to the North that every day the cuts were not passed delayed the rebuilding of the North. He said this was not the time to settle scores with the treasury. "There has to be coalition discipline that binds us unless the party institutions decide otherwise," Labor MK Colette Avital said. "If [Braverman] wants to convene the central committee to decide to leave the government, it's legitimate, but I am not sure that leaving and allowing a right-wing coalition is the right thing to do today. In these days when the goal must be rehabilitating the North, it is not the right time to leave the government." But Yitzhaki received bad news on Wednesday night when the Pensioners Party announced it has not decided yet how its representative on the committee, MK Elhanan Glazer, should vote on the budget cut. "I am considering voting against the cut, because the cuts could harm socioeconomic issues like benefits given to soldiers recently released from the IDF," Glazer said. "Four of our mandates came from young people, so we believe we represent them. We are negotiating with the Treasury and if they convince us, we will vote in favor." Minister-without-Portfolio Ya'acov Edri called upon Olmert to form a national-unity government with the Likud. He said such a government would focus on issues that Kadima, Labor and Likud could agree on like rehabilitating the IDF, rebuilding the north, easing socioeconomic gaps and restoring the faith of the nation in the government. Olmert's spokesman Assaf Shariv said the prime minister was considering his coalition options but that he has not made any new decisions about the future of his government.