Text size

Prof. Uriel Reichman resigned from the Knesset yesterday in the wake of Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's decision to give the Labor Party the education portfolio, despite having allegedly promised the job to Reichman, a Kadima member.

The resignation comes amid serious criticism of Olmert from Kadima officials, who say he has sold the party's important assets by giving Labor the education and defense portfolios and that he has given Labor too many seats in the cabinet, which will apparently include 27 ministers. Labor will be getting seven portfolios, with party chairman Amir Peretz running the Defense Ministry and Labor MK Yuli Tamir in the education slot.

"This could bring down Kadima and lead to rifts and splits," a Kadima official said. "There's a bad feeling, what news are we giving the public? [MK Abraham] Hirchson finance minister? Amir Peretz defense minister? The feeling is that Olmert is building the Labor Party, rehabilitating the Likud and dismantling Kadima. Doesn't he see what's going on at home?"

Reichman said that both Ariel Sharon and Olmert had promised him the Education Ministry.

"There was an explicit commitment from Olmert and from Arik Sharon," Reichman said yesterday. "Olmert repeated it a number of times."

However, Olmert associates said Reichman was never promised the job. They said he was promised that he would be the Kadima candidate for the education portfolio if Kadima kept the ministry.

Although Reichman's media-saturated resignation has no real political significance within Kadima, it is an embarrassing setback for Olmert. Reichman told Haaretz yesterday that Olmert's decision to break that promise is not a good sign for Kadima.

"This isn't a good sign of things to come," he said. "Kadima wanted to be different, it came with a promise of clean politics. This is not a good beginning."

"I think Olmert made a mistake and should have fulfilled the sole public commitment that Sharon made," Reichman said. Reichman will go back to heading the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, which he founded.

Several Kadima MKs serving as ministers in the transitional government are tensely awaiting Olmert's decisions on whether they will become ministers in the 17th Knesset. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz met with Olmert yesterday in talks that sources said were difficult. Meir Sheetrit is fighting for the Finance Ministry, but Olmert apparently plans to give it to Hirchson, who is close to him. Other Kadima officials whose ministerial future is murky include Ze'ev Boim, Roni Bar-On and Yaakov Edri.

Olmert, meanwhile, is trying to find solutions to the key internal problems. He is expected to offer Mofaz the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry as well as membership in the political-security cabinet and a position as deputy prime minister. However, Mofaz told Olmert he would not take any position. Sheetrit is expected to be offered the Knesset speaker or interior minister positions.

The Reichman crisis broke out Saturday night. On Saturday morning journalists asked for his reaction to Olmert's decision to give the education portfolio to Labor. Reichman said he was not aware of the decision and quickly confirmed it with Kadima. That day, Olmert set up a meeting with Reichman for yesterday, but yesterday morning Reichman decided to leave the Knesset. He said there was no point in meeting, because it would be seen as an attempt to win some form of compensation.

Olmert associates rushed to criticize Reichman for canceling the meeting, saying it was not appropriate behavior toward the head of state and that Olmert would not be pressured into changing his mind. Reichman heard this reaction in the press and got angry. He phoned Olmert in the afternoon and officially told him he had decided to resign. Olmert tried to convince him to stay, telling him he was making a mistake. "I want you in the government," Olmert said.

Reichman, however, would not be pacified, and formally announced his resignation on television yesterday night.