Sharon distributes portfolios to allies

Bar-On: Industry and Trade; Boim: Immigrant Absorption; Livni: IBA.

sharon stained glass 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
sharon stained glass 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet voted on Sunday to approve Sharon's appointments of several of his top political allies to key positions in the cabinet. The vote passed unanimously, with every Likud minister voting in favor. But Labor ministers walked out before the vote, protesting Sharon's decision not to allocate any new positions to Labor and the lack of coordination between Sharon's office and Labor on key issues in recent weeks. The appointments will come to a vote as a bloc on Monday in the Knesset, where Sharon is expected to have a difficult time passing them. Likud leadership candidates Binyamin Netanyahu and Uzi Landau, several Likud rebel MKs, and Labor MKs Amram Mitzna, Ilana Cohen, and Amir Peretz all intend to vote against them, virtually guaranteeing a majority against the appointments. Sharon appointed Interim Finance Minister Ehud Olmert and Interim Science Minister Matan Vilna'i in permanent capacities, Knesset House Committee Chairman Roni Bar-On to replace Olmert as minister of Industry, Trade and Labor, and Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim as Immigration Absorption minister and the cabinet's liaison to the Knesset. Further distributing power that had been in Olmert's hands, Sharon decided to appoint Justice Minister Tzipi Livni as the minister in charge of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, and Tourism Minister Avraham Hirschson in charge of the Israel Lands Administration ministry. Livni and Hirschson will take over the IBA and ILA in addition to their current portfolios. The Industry and Trade portfolio is a significant promotion for Bar-On, a freshman MK, who first gained notoriety when former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu unsuccessfully tried to appoint him as attorney-general. If the appointment is approved, Bar-On will control a budget of more than 3.5 billion shekels. Boim has experience absorbing immigrants as the former mayor of the southern development town of Kiryat Gat. His family even "adopted" an immigrant from Russia and has helped him for years. "Immigrant Absorption is a very important portfolio with a lot of challenges involved," Boim said. "Aliyah is the key to Zionist enterprise and the spirit behind the formation of Israel. If the Knesset allows me to take the position, I will do everything possible as a minister to help immigrants." Labor sought control over the IBA for Minister-without-Portfolio Haim Ramon, but Sharon appointed Livni because he needed an ally in the position ahead of the November 7 decision on the IBA's next director-general. Sharon expects Livni to back his candidate for the position, former Israel Electric Corporation chairman Eli Landau, whose appointment was opposed by Olmert. Hirschson's appointment was significant because the ILA controls the majority of Israel's land resources. Until the present government, Sharon made a point of controlling the authority no matter what position he held, whether it was agriculture minister, construction and housing minister, national infrastructures minister or prime minister. Meanwhile, sources close to Sharon revealed Saturday night that the prime minister is considering initiating early elections and leaving the Likud if Netanyahu and the Likud rebels continue to oppose key legislation when the Knesset returns to session on Monday. Sharon's associates confirmed a report in Friday's Ma'ariv that Sharon will determine whether to seek elections or split his party based on the results of Monday's Knesset vote on the ministerial appointments of Boim, Bar-On, and Ehud Olmert. "This is a vote on whether or not Sharon has a coalition, not just a vote on whether Ronnie Bar-On will be a minister," a Sharon associate explained. "If Netanyahu and the rebels are independent MKs, it means that the budget and other key votes won't pass. It is completely legitimate to go to elections over your ability to govern." The cabinet voted on Sunday afternoon on the appointment of Interim Finance Minister Ehud Olmert to Finance Minister in a permanent capacity and on the Boim and Bar-On nominations. Sharon called the two men at 8 a.m. Sunday to tell them who was going to receive which position. Labor and Degel Hatorah are also seeking upgrades in their portfolios. In a meeting with Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon on Saturday night, Communications Minister Dalia Itzik reportedly discussed the possibility of Labor obtaining control over the Israel Broadcasting Authority from Olmert. "The people of Israel don't want a state where portfolios can be bought for votes," Netanyahu said. "They are getting their jobs for voting against the referendum bill, in a continuation of the corruption of Israeli politics that Sharon has caused. MKs have to vote on fateful issues according to their conscience and according to the mandate that they got from their party and not on the basis of threats from the prime minister." Sharon's associates responded by accusing Netanyahu of destroying and dividing the Likud. They said he would pay politically for voting against the appointments of Likud ministers, who the party needs to have in the cabinet to replace resigned ministers Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky. "Bibi continues making mistakes and playing into our hands," a Sharon associate said. "He is only hurting himself when he tries to convince the rebels to vote against appointing Likud ministers for personal reasons." A source close to Netanyahu responded that "the Likud's destroyer is not Netanyahu but Sharon, the man who strayed from the party and appoints only his cronies." Netanyahu met with evacuees from Neveh Dekalim on Friday afternoon at the Jerusalem Gate Hotel. A group of Likud rebels led by Uzi Landau will visit evacuees at the Jerusalem Gold Hotel on Sunday, while Sharon convenes a festive dinner for MKs and their spouses at his official residence in Jerusalem. Sharon intended to use the dinner to present a unified Likud ahead of the start of the Knesset's winter session. But Netanyahu and most of Sharon's opponents in the Likud intend to boycott the event, which has become a symbol of the rift in the party. Rebel MK Michael Ratzon said that Sharon created the rift and he has only himself to blame. "Sharon is embarrassing himself," Ratzon said. "He doesn't care about us. Unity in the party depends on him. We are innocent." National Union MKs will protest outside Sharon's residence during the dinner under the banner "The Likud celebrates while the evacuees cry."