Mofaz May Have to Hand Defense Portfolio to Peretz

It looks as if Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz will be the one to pay the heaviest price for the Labor Party's expected entry into the coalition.

He has digested the fact that in two days, after five years in the post, he may well be forced to pass his portfolio to Labor chairman Amir Peretz.

This is a rough patch for Mofaz, who had to call Peretz yesterday morning to deny having anything to do with reports quoting the minister's "associates" saying it would be irresponsible to make the Labor head minister of defense. Mofaz's office issued a statement expressing his respect for Peretz and his conviction that he would discharge his duties faithfully.

During yesterday's Knesset meeting of Kadima MKs, Mofaz ducked reporters. Now he will have to wait for his fate to be determined in further coalition negotiations.

If Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert carries out his plan to form a broad coalition of Kadima, Labor, Shas, United Torah Judaism, the Pensioners Party and Yisrael Beiteinu, Mofaz will not be the only Kadima minister to lose an important portfolio.

The working assumption of political pundits is one ministerial appointment for every three MKs elected to the Knesset, which adds up to a 25-member cabinet. The battle will take place not only within Kadima, but also within Labor, where a presumed six ministerial jobs will have many more candidates fighting for them.

Reichman gives up the dream

Prof. Uriel Reichman of Kadima, who is now widely expected to be forced to give up his dream of being education minister in favor of Labor's Yuli Tamir, sounded optimistic yesterday. He says that he has been given the impression that his party will do everything possible to give him the portfolio. Reichman joined the party on the basis of an express promise of the post from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"The education portfolio will not be given to the Labor Party," Reichman said. "I am positive of that. There was an explicit commitment on the part of Ariel Sharon."

Olmert could blame his failure to keep Sharon's promise on the lower-than-expected number of seats won by Kadima, of course, in which case Reichman is almost sure to resign and in so doing to damage the party's image.

The treasury represents another trap. According to the agreement between Olmert and Peretz, the finance portfolio is one of the possible appointments for Peretz.

The final decision is to be decided through negotiation. The current conventional wisdom is that Peretz has already conceded the treasury but is continuing to fight publicly for the job he set his sights on during the campaign to preserve his image.

That is the easy part of the story. The problematic part is the battle between ministers Meir Sheetrit and Abraham Hirchson over the portfolio.

Hirchson is close to Olmert, and Olmert wants him to have the job but Sheetrit could do enormous damage if he is passed over. He wants to be finance minister, and says so constantly, and will certainly kick up a fuss if he has to give up his dream. Perhaps he would be satisfied with another senior economic portfolio.