Sharon Cabinet to Feature Ben-Eliezer at Defense, Peres in Foreign Ministry
The Labor party on Friday voted for eight ministers to fill its allotted seats in the emerging government of Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon, with MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a reserve brigadier general, besting several challengers for the position of defense minister and elder party statesman Shimon Peres winning the foreign ministry post by default.
Peres was assured the foreign affairs position on Thursday when no one decided to oppose him. Similarly, no one opposed MK Shalom Simchon's candidacy for Agriculture Minister. The hottest race in the secret balloting by Labor's 1,650 central committee members was between Ben-Eliezer, former IDF deputy Chief of Staff Matan Vilnai and outgoing deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh. Ben-Eliezer, a proponent of a unity government ever since the Palestinian initfada erupted in late September, received 45% of the vote, while Sneh received 32.5% and Vilnai 22.5%.
This gave Sneh first choice of the remaining portfolios offered Labor, and he said he would take the Transportation ministry. Placing second was outgoing Environment Minister Dalia Itzik, who will likely chose Trade and Industry, and third was Matan Vilnai who will probably remain with his Science, Culture and Sport portfolio. The party voted in the first-ever Druze to serve in an Israeli cabinet - Salah Tarif was chosen to fill one of the posts of minister without portfolio, along with party Secretary-General Ra'anan Cohen. The committee also was to decide on three deputy minister appointments.
Ben-Eliezer is regarded as having some of the more hawkish credentials within Labor, and is known to be Sharon's preferred choice. He said he would "do everything necessary to make it clear to the Palestinians that there are rules to the game," in his first post-victory comments to ISRAEL RADIO. He was congratulated by the YESHA Council, which "anticipates that Ben-Eliezer and Prime Minister Sharon will bring about the desired turnaround in Israel's defense policy, and will replace capitulation with initiative and victory."
Sharon plans to present his new government next Wednesday afternoon in a festive ceremony in the Knesset, and has decided to take a direct role in negotiations in an attempt to speed up the process. He met with NRP leader Yitzhak Levy on Thursday and Yisrael B'Aliyah chairman Natan Sharansky on Friday at his Negev ranch.
Coalition talks with Shas hit a snag Thursday over its demands to legalize pirate radio stations, to keep the direct election law, and to receive five ministries with portfolio. The Likud agreed to form a committee to investigate legalizing the stations and that Sharon would meet Shas chairman Eli Yishai after the government is formed to decide on the election law. Likud negotiator Eyal Arad denied that Shas has been promised the Interior Ministry.
The Likud regards the demands of Yisrael B'Aliyah and the NRP for two portfolios each as excessive. Likud is willing to give Housing to the NRP - plus two deputy ministers, including one in the Education Ministry.
Sharon Wednesday denied reports that Education had been offered to the NRP and Yisrael B'Aliyah. "The Education portfolio is in our hands and I have no intention of giving it up," Sharon told a group of students meeting at his Negev farm. "It's the only portfolio that I said from the start would stay with us - and that's where it's going to stay. We must instill Zionist values of national pride and love of the land in the educational system, even if they are no longer popular." Sharon also said that in consultation with the IDF Chief of Staff he would like to add a chapter concerning the value of "love of the homeland" to the army's ethical code.
As for the Likud portfolio lineup, as of Wednesday night it appeared that Silvan Shalom will be finance minister, and Limor Livnat and Meir Sheetrit are candidates for the Public Security or Education, though MK Uzi Landau may be headed for Public Security. Tzippi Livni looks set to fill the Justice Ministry, and Ruby Rivlin is slated for Communications, which is still coveted by Shas however. The Jerusalem Affairs Ministry, if it exists, will go to Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.