Peretz at Finance? Not So Fast

Amir Peretz, soon to be the former chairman of the Labor Party, means to demand the Finance portfolio. He means to demand support for socio-economic steps as a condition for throwing his support behind one of the two candidates to replace him at Labor's helm - Ehud Barak or Ami Ayalon.

Even before the Labor primaries, Peretz had said he wanted to leave the Defense Ministry, and would demand the Finance portfolio. His people said yesterday that Ayalon's people had sent feelers. Peretz means to negotiate with both Ayalon and Barak to buttress his status in the party and public; it could be said that both candidates need the support of Peretz's faithful to win the runoff poll scheduled for June 12, 2007.

In the primaries this Monday, Peretz won 22.4% of the vote - 15,037 ballots.

His people claim that Peretz will remain faithful to his socio-economic principles, which include raising the minimum wage to NIS 4,500 a month, legislating a mandatory pensions law, increasing old-age allowances, adding NIS 330 million to the health basket in 2007 beyond the NIS 400 million extra already added this year, and pushing through a law to protect temporary workers.

Labor sources say Peretz has better relations with Ayalon than with Barak. But because Barak has closer relations with Ehud Olmert, they add, Peretz would stand to get a better portfolio by linking up with the former prime minister.

Naturally, it's an open question whether either Ayalon or Barak could assure Peretz of a senior seat in cabinet.

Peretz campaign chief, Yoram Marziano, commented yesterday that right now, the Peretz headquarters is not dealing with personnel issues: it's raising the Labor flag of social rights. "Protecting the flag will be the main grounds by which we decide to support," he claimed.

Ayalon crony Avishay Braverman said yesterday that his and Ayalon's view of social affairs is close to that of Amir Peretz, based on which he predicted they could cooperate ahead of the runoff. If Ayalon is elected, he said, one thing it would do is increase the number of banks, slash red tape, and "promote national projects".

Knesset sources say that in a reshuffle, Peretz's people might find themselves in the cold, unless more portfolios are added. If Peretz joins Barak and Barak wins the primaries he'll demand Defense and Peretz will demand that Braverman at least be given a cabinet seat, and there's also Haim Ramon, cleared of infamy, waiting in the wings for an appropriate appointment.

Kadima sources don't believe for a minute that Olmert will give Peretz the Finance portfolio. At most he might get a "socio-economic" portfolio like "Minister in charge of Galilee and Negev affairs", presently held by Shimon Peres. No: Olmert will keep Finance in Kadima, giving it to Roni Bar-On or Haim Ramon or Meir Sheetrit, they say. Labor can have Defense (and the smaller portfolios it already has) and that's plenty, they say, lest the Gil-Pensioners Party with its 7 seats or the other Kadima-ites grow restive. Peretz wants a top portfolio? Then let one of the other Laborites give up his seat.