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Right-Wing Fights Over Remaining Cabinet Seats

Tuesday, August 28, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags:

With the Labor Party finally deciding this week to join Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon's government, the Likud leader turned in earnest to negotiations with right-of-center parties, only to be confronted with a series of ultimatums over the remaining cabinet spoils.

The number of ministers in the cabinet could be as many as 30. Sharon has already promised Labor eight portfolios the same number as Likud will get, besides Sharon as prime minister. ISRAEL RADIO reported Wednesday that Shas was demanding six ministries, and the NRP, Yisrael B'Aliyah and the far-right Yisrael Beteinu-National Union alliance wanted two each.

Many of Sharon's "natural partners" in the nationalist camp view certain offers made to Labor as somewhat of a collective compromise, which ultimately leaves them with a thinner slice of the cake. The Right is especially furious over Likud's promise that a repeal of the law for direct election of the prime minister will be implemented in time for the next elections, as long as the government lasts until February 2002. Prior to the recent election, Opposition leaders had agreed that the repeal would only be implemented before the following elections.

Another major stumbling block is the dispute between Shas (17 seats) and Yisrael B'Aliyah (four seats) over control of the Interior Ministry. Yisrael B'Aliyah chairman Natan Sharansky, who fought harder than anyone outside Likud for the election of Sharon, threatened not to meet with the Likud negotiating team Tuesday night. While the Russian immigrant party is not insisting on Interior for itself, it threatened that if the ministry is awarded to Shas, it will not join the coalition. The Likud finally issued a statement assuring Sharansky that "no portfolio was promised to any of our partners, including the Interior portfolio."

The statement came amid Shas claims that the Ministry was "in its pocket." Shas Council of Torah Sages secretary Raphael Pinhasi said the Likud had also agreed to give the party control of the Labor and Social Affairs, Health, and Religious Affairs ministries, plus a ministry without portfolio. Shas also claimed it has won the promise of a deputy minister in the Education Ministry with full authority over the Shas school system, as well as promises to legalize Shas-run pirate radio stations and to cancel outgoing Justice Minister Yossi Beilin's plan to shut down Religious Affairs.

One possible solution would be the Likud's retention of the Interior Ministry. Another would be to offer Sharansky the Education Ministry, but that could undermine Sharon's support from his own party, to which he promised the portfolio throughout the election campaign. Also, giving Sharansky education would likely cause the retreat of the National Religious Party, which has long viewed the portfolio as its natural inheritance.

The battle between Shas and Yisrael B'Aliyah goes back to the 1999 general election when one of Sharansky's central campaign demands was for the Interior Ministry, a long-time Shas stronghold. His reason was the mistreatment of Russian immigrants whom he said were subjected to demeaning questions about the authenticity of their Judaism by ministry officials.

United Torah Judaism MKs were under instructions from their rabbis not to discuss any ministerial roles without a Likud promise that the issue of drafting yeshiva students will be resolved to the satisfaction of the rabbis. And MK Michael Kleiner, of the one-man Herut faction, has called on all members of the right wing to stay out of a government that includes UN Security Resolution 242 in its policy guidelines, claiming that it "recognizes, in advance, a Palestinian state."

Likud sources, worried by the "flight of the portfolios," are insisting that at least they will have two important ministries - Limor Livnat has been mooted as a possible public security minister, while Silvan Shalom now appears certain to get the Treasury.

Sharon also wants Dan Meridor of the Center Party and David Levy of Gesher as ministers. Meridor regards himself as a candidate for the Justice Ministry, but the Likud wants to keep that portfolio, so Sharon has offered him an opportunity to run Israel's intelligence agencies - the General Security Service, the Mossad and Israel's nuclear program.

In an expected move, Meridor's six-member party, established two years ago, decided Wednesday to disperse, due to lack of support. The party interim chairman, outgoing Tourism Minister Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, convened the faction and said that it could not continue to exist as there is neither a party behind it nor joint faction initiatives.

Meanwhile, the Gesher faction Wednesday began working on a new bill that would enable its three MKs, David Levy, Maxim Levy and Moti Mishani, to resign from the One Israel joint list and build an independent faction. The legislation would enable David Levy to become a minister in the new government.

The battle over the chairmanship of the Knesset Constitution Committee poses a further hurdle. Current chairman Amnon Rubinstein (Meretz) announced Tuesday that he is refusing to vacate his seat. Traditionally, the chairmanship of this powerful committee is reserved for a member of the ruling coalition, and Meretz has no intention of joining Sharon's government. The Likud had originally planned to award the position to Benny Elon (National Union-Yisrael Beiteinu), but Labor wanted the job itself - either exclusively or in rotation with Likud - and threatened not to join the government if this request were denied. Sharon's acquiescence to this demand has infuriated many of his other potential coalition partners.

Meanwhile, the Labor Party's Central Committee is set to meet Friday to vote - by secret ballot - on the list of ministers that will serve in a unity government. At the party's convention Monday night, Central Committee members voted that they, and not the party leaders, would decide on Labor's ministerial line-up. Some sources near Sharon are indicating that if Labor's Central Committee does not come up with "reasonable" nominees for ministerial positions, Sharon may have to re-shuffle the entire deck of cards.

Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

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Worthy Christian News » World News » Right-Wing Fights Over Remaining Cabinet Seats