Plans in the Prime Minister's Office for a reshuffle of cabinet portfolios may not be finalized until after the verdict in former justice minister Haim Ramon's court case on January 31, sources close to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday. The fate of the Justice, Social Affairs and Science, Culture and Sport portfolios, the Knesset Finance Committee and perhaps even the Defense Ministry would remain undecided for more than two more weeks in such a scenario, despite increased infighting between the coalition partners. Labor has issued ultimatums to Olmert about receiving the Social Affairs portfolio by January 1 and that Labor MK Ghaleb Majadle be appointed to the cabinet next Sunday, but Olmert was noncommittal when Majadle asked him on Monday whether he should have his proverbial ministerial suit ready by then.
Minister Majadle? (editorial)
Olmert, Peretz spar over Arab minister
"We may or not wait for Ramon's verdict," an Olmert associate said.
"When we get the full picture [on cabinet vacancies], we will decide whether there should be a big reshuffle or a little one and then we will inform everyone."
The tension between Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman and Labor Chairman Amir Peretz boiled over on Monday when the heads of the two coalition partners devoted their faction meetings to criticizing the other.
The overt reason for the dispute was the pending appointment of Majadle as Israel's first Arab and Muslim minister. The appointment provided an excuse for the two to men to engage in a fight that aides to both said helped them politically.
"I have no problem with Ghaleb," Lieberman told his faction. "We have a big problem with the defense minister. Every day this man continues in his job hurts the security of Israel. Instead of dealing with security, he is busy with manipulations and internal rivalries. This isn't the defense minister we need."
Lieberman said his party would remain in the coalition but he would be happy if Labor left. He said he was waiting to see whether Olmert would accept his demand for additional portfolios for Israel Beiteinu.
Peretz responded by telling Labor MKs that Israel Beiteinu should quit the coalition if Lieberman cannot handle sitting in a government with an Arab minister.
"My decision to appoint Ghaleb caused many reactions, some very disproportionate," Peretz said. "If there is a danger to Israel, it's from a racist party like Israel Beiteinu. My decision to appoint Ghaleb made them uncomfortable and caused a crisis in their party.
Lieberman has yet to prove that he has contributed something positive to the state, let alone its security."
Reacting to Lieberman's joke that he was interested in replacing Peretz as defense minister, Labor leadership candidate Ami Ayalon said that "the last thing Israel needed right now was Lieberman as defense minister.
"Rehabilitating the army requires good judgment, a cool head and responsibility and not fiery declarations and extremist actions," Ayalon said.
The Labor central committee will convene on Thursday at Tel Aviv's Beit Hayal to vote on Majadle's appointment. Peretz had hoped the appointment would pass unanimously but the leader of Labor's Druse sector, Shakeef Shanan, announced on Monday that he would run against Majadle for the portfolio. Former deputy foreign minister Nawaf Masalha, who is an Arab and Majadle's nemesis, said he might also run.
Opposition MKs mocked the infighting in the coalition and said it was proof that the days of the government and Kadima were numbered.
"Every day there are headlines of one government figure attacking another," Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar told Likud MKs. "I never saw a government more divided than this one. The lack of trust between the components of the coalition won't inspire trust from the public."
Olmert told the Kadima faction that he was not worried about Kadima's rapidly falling support in the polls. He said he was confident in Kadima's future because most Israelis no longer categorize themselves within the traditional boundaries of Right and Left.
"We have to understand that the reality in the country is good and just the polls aren't, but I would rather have it that way and not the other way around," Olmert said.â€¢