Sources: Netanyahu's rival intends to reject offer to receive responsibility for regional co-operation
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud rival, MK Silvan Shalom, intends to reject an offer from Netanyahu on Monday to receive the honorary title of vice premier and responsibility for regional cooperation, sources close to Shalom said Sunday night.
Netanyahu hoped the two roles, which were both held by President Shimon Peres in the past, would satisfy Shalom. But Shalom's associates said he would settle for nothing less than the Finance portfolio and the title of vice prime minister, which involves filling in as acting prime minister when the prime minister is abroad or incapacitated and allowed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to succeed Ariel Sharon.
At press time, Netanyahu intended to keep the Finance portfolio for himself and not appoint a vice prime minister. But his associates said he was constantly reevaluating his decisions about Likud portfolios, which he will formally reveal to his ministers-in-waiting in one-on-one meetings at the Knesset on Monday before his government of 29 ministers and eight deputies is sworn in on Tuesday.
Supporters of Shalom in the Likud central committee threatened that if Netanyahu did not improve his offer to Shalom, they would "declare war" against him and use the party's institutions to try to bring him down. They said Shalom would also "join the opposition" to Netanyahu in the Knesset.
"Bibi will regret disrespecting Silvan," central committee member Meir Cohen of Ramle said Sunday night. "Silvan has been completely loyal to Netanyahu, but he is ungrateful to Shalom, who is responsible for more of the Likud's mandates than Bibi."
A Shalom supporter in the Likud faction said Shalom would still vote in favor of Netanyahu's government, but when there were key votes in the future, he would make sure to be abroad.
Shalom was not the only malcontent in the Likud faction Sunday night, as leaks emerged about whom Netanyahu would appoint as ministers.
Druse MK Ayoub Kara, who campaigned vigorously for a portfolio, was enraged to hear that he would not be a minister, and his associates accused Netanyahu of racism.
"Being loyal and honest in politics apparently doesn't get you anywhere in this country," a source close to Kara said. "He was more loyal to Netanyahu than anyone, and he is more experienced than most of the ministerial candidates. The only explanation is that Netanyahu doesn't want there to be a non-Jewish leader in the Likud."
Women's groups protested Netanyahu's intention to appoint only one female minister, MK Limor Livnat, who will join incoming Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver of Israel Beiteinu as the only women in the cabinet.
Netanyahu was up late considering and reconsidering his ministerial appointments. One of his biggest problems was finding roles for the three celebrities who joined or rejoined the Likud with much fanfare during the campaign: Moshe Ya'alon, Dan Meridor and Bennie Begin.
Ideas raised included appointing Ya'alon as a minister for higher education, reviving Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman's former Strategic Affairs Ministry and making Meridor a minister-without-portfolio in charge of intelligence services.
Netanyahu is also expected to announce on Monday morning that MK Ze'ev Elkin will be his candidate for Likud faction chairman. MK Danny Danon, who is an opponent of Netanyahu in the faction, is expected to run against Elkin. MK Ophir Akunis, who once served as an aide to Netanyahu, wanted the job but will not challenge Netanyahu's chosen candidate.
Meanwhile, in Labor, party chairman Ehud Barak had a much easier time.
MK Avishay Braverman accepted his offer to be a minister-without-portfolio in charge of minorities. Deputy defense minister Matan Vilna'i, who hoped to be promoted to minister, agreed to stay in his current post.
MK Orit Noked will be a deputy minister in the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry under Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. Barak offered the chairmanship of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to MK Ophir Paz-Pines, who was expected to accept. MK Daniel Ben-Simon will chair the Labor faction.
Netanyahu's associates said it was natural that MKs would be disappointed, but they should accept that sacrificing key portfolios was necessary to accomplish his goal of forming a lasting national unity government.
"The government is strong, stable and balanced and can succeed on all the key issues, but it has a price," a Netanyahu associate said.
Kadima leader Tzipi Livni mocked Netanyahu for giving up too much to his coalition partners, in a meeting with her faction at her Tel Aviv home. She vowed to lead a "fighting opposition," and warned that Netanyahu's government would lead to "anarchy" because people were losing their faith in politics.
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