Barak Offered Ayalon Deputy PM Slot; Fuad Blocked It

Defense Minister and Labor Chairman Ehud Barak was willing to cede the post of deputy prime minister to MK Ami Ayalon, but Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer blocked the move.

Barak and Ayalon have been negotiating, for some time now, the terms of Ayalon's entering the cabinet as a minister without portfolio. Ayalon was to have been the minister in charge of the Israel Broadcasting Authority and chairman of the Ministerial Committee for State Control.

However, Ben-Eliezer (Barak's close associate) vetoed the proposal to name Ayalon deputy prime minister. Ben-Eliezer made his opposition clear to both Barak and Ayalon, in separate conversations.

Labor sources said Ben-Eliezer could not have Ayalon, a novice MK who had never been minister, skip over him on the party seniority ladder.

In view of Ben-Eliezer's adamant stand Barak took back his proposal, and the negotiations on Ayalon's entering the cabinet stalemated.

Associates of both Barak and Ayalon believe, however, that the stalemate is temporary.

Barak was forced to give in to Ben-Eliezer's veto, due to the latter's senior position and influence in Barak's camp, party sources said.

Ben-Eliezer yesterday denied having any personal motives for his objection. "I have no interest in any title. From the first day I fought to get Ayalon into the cabinet. I still think it is vitally important. I spoke to him twice and tried to convince him to join. It's true, I told him there was no importance in the title of deputy prime minister that had been offered him, because only the heads of parties should hold that title," he said.

Ayalon's spokesman commented: "We are not dealing with titles, only with content."