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Photo: AP
Peretz's dilemma
Photo: AP
Photo: AFP
Kadima has some tough decisions to make
Photo: AFP
Peretz faces coalition dilemma
Labor party expected to join forces with Kadima as senior coalition partner, but Chairman Peretz undecided about top portfolio; Foreign Ministry out of question, Olmert not likely to concede Treasury
Labor party's coalition future still shrouded in fog: Top Labor officials are clear about one thing – the party will be part of the next government – but top Labor figures are estimating Chairman Amir Peretz's major dilemma at this time is whether to demand the Treasury or the Defense Ministry.

 

Elections winner Kadima says the Defense portfolio is up for negotiations, but Acting PM Olmert does not wish to relinquish the Finance Ministry and will prefer to hand over the Foreign Ministry instead.

 

In a Kadima meeting Wednesday, Olmert made it clear "all Zionist parties" are potential coalition partners, but Labor is a must for Kadima if it wishes to push forward its diplomatic plans.

 

At this time, Labor officials are talking about three options that would allow the party to join the coalition: The Defense Ministry, the Treasury, or a renunciation of the top ministries in favor of several social ministries.

 

In any event, senior party figures say Labor would demand the Education Ministry, while others proposed the party insist on being awarded the Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee's chairmanship.

 

Peretz, meanwhile, would not be agreeing to offers to accept the Foreign Ministry as Labor's top portfolio.

 

"What am I, retarded?" Peretz told officials during closed sessions in the course of the election campaign when presented with the possibility of accepting the Foreign Ministry, viewed as a "prestigious trap" for him.

 

"The Foreign portfolio is a trap where you cannot do anything," he said.

 

Social bloc?

 

Meanwhile, behind the scenes there are reports of contacts between Labor, Shas, Meretz, and possibility the Pensioners party, in a bid to forge a "social bloc" that would make join socioeconomic demands during coalition talks.

 

Under such scheme, all parties would presented a united front when it comes to social issues in the hopes of securing greater achievements in the talks with Olmert.

 

However, at this time talks on the proposal are in initial stages and have been most initiated by Labor, which hopes in the coming days the issue will move into high gear. Shas is apparently interested in advancing the "social bloc" idea due to fears that Kadima may first be interested in forging a coalition without the religious party.

 

Defense Ministry 'honey trap'

 

So what will Peretz ask for – Defense, Finance, or other portfolios? On the one hand, Peretz is interested in the Finance Ministry in order to realize Labor's promise to the voters – and so that he can introduce a "social revolution."

 

On the other hand, he knows that Olmert is interested in keeping the Finance Ministry in Kadima's hands. A senior Kadima official told Ynet on Wednesday that the party should give up on the Foreign Ministry and keep the Finance Ministry: "Through the Finance Ministry, one can control everything. The same is not necessarily true of the Defense Ministry."

 

The second option from Labor's point of view is the Defense Ministry – and in this case too, the temptation for Amir Peretz is big, as this position could qualify him in the public eye and bolster him in his weakest point ahead of the next elections, in which he would likely compete again for the post of prime minister.

 

With that, Labor officials said that the Defense Ministry position could be a "honey trap:" If Peretz chooses to undertake this position, he could find himself in a situation where he is forced to make defense cuts, as throughout his elections campaign he has called for such cuts in favor of social objectives.

 

A senior Labor official said that "despite the fact they think that the defense budget can be cut again, it's not true. There is nothing left to cut, and whoever prepared Labor's economic platform and suggested cutting from defense doesn't seem to know what they're talking about."

 

"Even if we wanted to cut, the whole of the defense establishment will rise in an uproar and claim that the IDF's deployment and Israel's ability to deal with strategic threats will be undermined," the source said. "In any case, he (Peretz) won't be able to do well there, as all economic analysts will criticize him, saying that choosing the Defense Ministry shows that Peretz only wants to prepare himself for competing in the next elections."

 

Even if Peretz decides he is interested in the Defense Ministry, there are demands by senior Kadima ministers, including Shaul Mofaz, to keep the portfolio in the party. An observer who took part in assembling the last government says that against the background of carrying out a complex disengagement, the Defense Ministry must remain in the hands of the ruling party.

 

Olmert trusts Mofaz to handle the Defense Ministry, and has said: "During the sensitive period ahead of us, a man with authority in the defense arena and with the experience of dealing with problematic situations is needed, and there is no doubt that Mofaz is the right man for this."

 

'The third way'

 

Here comes into play the party's third option: Labor may concede in the course of the coalition negotiations, which according to estimates at the party will be strenuous and exhausting, its demand for the major ministerial positions. Instead, the party will present Kadima and Olmert with demands for commitments pertaining to social legislation, demand an additional ministry, as well as a broadenedIndustry, Trade and Labor Ministry, and "social" ministerial posts such as the Welfare and the Education Ministries.

 

Of all three, this option - that seems to place Peretz in a position of weakness ahead of the next elections – is the one many of the party's top members prefer. Senior Labor leaders explained that "this option would provide Amir with quiet on the home front and allow him to consolidate his position and leadership. If the leading members are busy with being ministers, they are unable to mess with politics and he can be calm."

 

Another top member said that "this way we will be able to realize our social platform, and no one will be able to say that what the Labor party is doing is not relevant to each and every citizen in this country."

 

Meanwhile, there are already talks in Labor of some senior members who may feel they have received the short end of the stick after the ministerial positions have been distributed. These include Professor Avishai Braverman, Ami Ayalon, MK Eitan Cabel, MK Shalom Simhon, MK Ephraim Sneh and MK Danny Yatom.

 

On Wednesday afternoon, Peretz held a meeting with the party's Secretary-General Eitan Cabel and faction Chairman Ephraim Sneh. On Thursday Peretz is set to begin a series of one-on-one talks with top officials ahead of the coalition talks and the establishment of the party's negotiations team.

 

Incoming MK Shelly Yechimovitz has already formulated her opinion on the matter. In conversation with Ynet she said that "Amir Peretz is the natural candidate for the position of Finance Minister. Before the elections, Kadima members mocked this possibility. But now, after the results were published and it turned out they in effect collapsed and became only a medium-sized party – they must take this option seriously."

 

Ronny sofer and Ilan Marciano contributed to the report

 

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