Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
will announce the winner of the battle over the coveted industry, trade and labor portfolio on Thursday night in meetings with the two candidates for the job, Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim
and MK Roni Bar-On.
Bar-On and Boim have asked their loyalists in the Likud central committee to lobby Sharon to appoint them to the lucrative ministry, which has a budget of more than 3.5 billion shekels. The man who doesn't get the post will be appointed immigrant absorption minister and control a paltry NIS 1.34 billion budget.
Boim has stressed his experience working with the defense industry in his current position and his work bringing Intel to Kiryat Gat when he was mayor of the southern development town. Bar-On has made clear that he does not want a junior portfolio.
Sharon decided to bring the nominations of Boim and Bar-On and the permanent appointment of interim finance minister Ehud Olmert
together in one Knesset vote on Monday. The move is intended to help Bar-On, whose candidacy might have been rejected by the Knesset if brought separately.
Likud rebel leader Uzi Landau
and most of the Likud rebel MKs had intended to vote in favor of Olmert and against the other two. Landau said on Wednesday that if Sharon combines the three in one vote he would advise the MKs in the group to vote against.
In a sign that the divisions in the Likud will continue, Landau and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin
have decided to boycott a festive Likud faction meeting on Sunday at Sharon's Jerusalem residence. While the MKs and their wives will be dining with Sharon in Rehavia, Landau and Rivlin will be visiting settlers evacuated from Neve Dekalim
at the Jerusalem Gold Hotel.
"There's nothing to unite around and nothing to party about," Rivlin said. "I can't party when the Likud needs to be working on soul searching and bridging its divides."
Former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu
has not decided yet whether he and his wife Sara will attend the meeting or how to vote on the appointments.
The prime minister will convene the Likud's ministerial forum for the first time in more than a year on Thursday. Sharon's associates denied that the decision to start convening the group regularly had anything to do with the departure of Netanyahu from the cabinet.
Sharon met on Wednesday with Likud rebel MK Ehud Yatom, who asked him to reappoint Landau and Natan Sharansky
to the cabinet. Yatom also asked Sharon to separate the appointments of Olmert, Boim and Bar-On.