Tourism portfolio to remain vacant

Former tourism ministers say it's "irresponsible" to not appoint a full-time minister to the job.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert does not intend to appoint a new tourism minister or Knesset Finance Committee chairman for at least another month, sources close to Olmert said Wednesday. Political officials had expected Olmert to fill the vacancies immediately after Tuesday's Meretz primary. Olmert was waiting to see whether new Meretz chairman Haim Oron would be willing to bring his party into the coalition. In his victory speech late Tuesday night, Oron categorically ruled out joining the government due to its policies on settlements and its fight against the legal establishment. But Olmert's associates said he would still not fill the positions that became vacant when Israel Beiteinu left the coalition in January. Sources close to Olmert said his new target date for filling the positions was when the Knesset returned from its six-week recess on May 18. They said he was leaving the positions available for "future negotiations," but they did not say with which party. "The prime minister is functioning as interim tourism minister and there is nothing to worry about," a source close to Olmert said. But former tourism ministers said it was "irresponsible" to not appoint a full-time minister to the job at a time when Israel was preparing for the influx of tourists who are coming to celebrate the country's 60th anniversary. "The fact that a minister is not being appointed hurts the ministry, hurts tourism and hurts the economy," said former tourism minister Yitzhak Aharonovich (Israel Beiteinu). The two most likely candidates for the position are the two ministers-without-portfolio, Ruhama Avraham (Kadima) and Ami Ayalon (Labor). Labor chairman Ehud Barak announced last week that he was seeking the Finance Committee chairmanship for his party, making it more likely that the Tourism portfolio would go to Avraham. A source close to Avraham said she was not requesting the position but was clearly capable of filling it.