Angling for Top Treasury Post in High Gear

Tensions are running high in Labor and Kadima ahead of this week's cabinet appointments, particularly that of the finance minister from Kadima since that will determine the remaining appointments. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will decide on the redistribution of portfolios after the summit at Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday and present his choices to the cabinet for approval by next Sunday. The understanding over the weekend that Olmert intends to name his associate, Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, as finance minister, as many in the prime minister's circle have advised him to do, has caused disquiet around Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit and MK Haim Ramon.

Ramon, an Olmert ally, had been the leading candidate for the job, as Sheetrit had been at certain junctures. Olmert, however, has been advised not to risk a Ramon appointment to the treasury, which would be controversial and lead to High Court petitions, and at the same time not to appoint Sheetrit, who might work against him.

Suspense is ratcheting up in Labor as well, ahead of a decision by party Chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the appointment of another Labor minister. Barak is waiting for Olmert's decision, but his two leading candidates are MKs Ami Ayalon and Amir Peretz, who are both seeking a senior post. Sources close to Barak said over the weekend that the only senior slot available is that of education minister, which is held by Yuli Tamir. His associates say he is leaning toward Ayalon, and that if the latter wants the education post then Barak might lead a move in the Labor Party Central Committee to have Tamir, a Peretz supporter, step down.

Senior sources in the party's social-welfare camp, to which Tamir and Peretz belong, said everything at this point was speculation.

If Olmert can satisfy Ramon's ministerial aspirations with a position in the Prime Minister's Office cobbled together from various functions, this will apparently solve his dilemma. However, Sheetrit has let Olmert know that he sees himself as the most suitable candidate for finance minister. If Olmert picks Bar-On over Sheetrit, he may offer Sheetrit the Interior Ministry, which controls the local authorities, as well as one of the functions vacated by President-elect Shimon Peres, such as vice premier. Sheetrit could use the job at Interior to garner support for his bid to head Kadima. Kadima MKs Ruhama Avraham Balila and Majali Wahabi also see themselves as ministerial candidates.