All in Favor / Musical Chair

Ehud Barak's demand over the weekend to give the Finance Committee chair to his Labor Party raised a few eyebrows among senior members of his party, as well as among Kadima leaders. The reason for their surprise is the forum where Barak raised the idea: a Labor Party rally, rather than in discussions with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Perhaps, senior Laborites said, Barak wanted to float a trial balloon. Perhaps he wanted to show MK Avishay Braverman, who is hankering for the job, that he is fighting to get it for him.

Either way, senior Kadima members and the Finance Ministry are in no hurry to give Braverman the position, in light of his demand to raise the budget spending target.

Nevertheless, Braverman said he would work toward this goal in coordination with the treasury.

Sources in the Knesset say Barak simply might want to show Braverman and the public, as well as his own party activists, that Labor, and not only Shas, has demands in exchange for keeping the coalition together.

Barak's call comes two weeks after Shas chief Eli Yishai demanded the position for his party, as part of the weekly demands he makes from the coalition and government.

But so far, no one in Kadima intends to give the job either to Shas or Labor.

Kadima is worried that the chairman of the House Committee, Kadima's David Tal, will make the cabinet's life difficult in the committee if a member of his own party is passed over for the plum position in favor of a Labor or Shas lawmaker. Kadima MK Shai Hermesh reportedly would like the job.

Giving the job to a representative of Kadima, Labor or Shas will not increase the small size of the coalition - 67 MKs. To widen the coalition's power base, Olmert would prefer to give the chairmanship to United Torah Judaism (UTJ) or Meretz.

After yesterday's Meretz primary, pressure will be put on its new head to join the coalition or support it from the outside. In exchange, it reportedly would be offered the leadership of the Finance Committee. UTJ has already announced its opposition to the move.

Meanwhile, Stas Misezhnikov (Yisrael Beiteinu) still has the post, helping the treasury get its bills passed in the committee (except for his announcement that he was freezing budgetary transfers to the Housing Ministry because of the ministry's opposition to contribute to running the Heftsiba construction company in receivership).

Senior Kadima officials say there is an understanding with Yisrael Beiteinu that Misezhnikov will stay at the post. In exchange, fellow faction members will absent themselves from critical votes in the Knesset in which Yisrael Beiteinu opposes the government.

If there are no dramatic developments, Misezhnikov will continue as Finance Committee chief until the Knesset summer session begins in May. And Barak? He can keep on asking for Labor to get the job.