JERUSALEM (Dec. 6)
Yossi Sarid of the left-wing Meretz bloc will be joining the Cabinet in an expansion of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s government.
But the move to quell a contentious coalition by adding Cabinet posts gave the prime minister new grief Sunday, as he departed for a weeklong trip to Italy and Britain.
At Ben-Gurion Airport, Rabin fended off public criticism of his plan to add Sarid and two other ministers to his Cabinet by blaming Meretz, one of his two coalition partners, for the increase.
But even before the prime minister’s air force jet was airborne, Meretz hit back, accusing Rabin and his Labor Party of grabbing all the government goodies for themselves.
“We owe it to our voters to exercise the degree of influence on policy-making to which our size entitles us; we cannot give up our due,” said Energy and Science Minister Amnon Rubinstein.
Current coalition tensions had seemed resolved last Friday, when Rabin met with the three Meretz ministers and Sarid, who chairs the party’s parliamentary caucus. He promised to bring Sarid into his Cabinet as soon as he returned from Europe.
Rabin said he would meet with Sarid and discuss what portfolio he was to receive. Political observers assume the new Cabinet member will get the Science Ministry, at present held by Rubinstein.
But the meeting Friday triggered a public outcry when sources close to Rabin let it be known that he plans, in fact, to appoint three new ministers: one from Meretz, one from Labor and one from his other coalition partner, the rigorously Orthodox Shas party.
The intention, presumably, is to give the important labor and welfare portfolio to the Labor Party, now that it seems clear that the United Torah Judaism bloc will not be joining the coalition. Rabin had held onto the post himself, reserving it for a future coalition partner.
Likewise, the religious affairs portfolio, also held in reserve, will probably go to Shas, though there is opposition within Labor to giving this portfolio to the fervently Orthodox party.
Knesset Member Tzahi Hanegbi of the opposition Likud bloc flayed the prime minister for swelling the Cabinet further, in effect making every other lawmaker in the coalition either a minister or deputy minister.
“This is a national record,” Hanegbi asserted sarcastically.
His criticism was echoed by much of the press, which pointed to the high cost of running ministers’ offices, cars, phones and staffs.
At his airport news conference, Rabin said the “growth in the size of the Cabinet” was the fault of Meretz, which had demanded an additional minister as the price for staying in the coalition government.
Meretz hit back fast, arguing that Labor had overstepped its “quota” when the Cabinet was formed in July by giving itself an excess of positions: 13 ministerial posts instead of 11, six deputy minister posts instead of three, and most of the Knesset committee chairmanships to boot.
Sarid’s appointment, said Meretz, would merely correct an imbalance that need not trigger a new Labor appointment.
Rabin’s departure from the country presumably will bring a few days respite in this mini-crisis. When he returns at the end of the week, the premier will have to make his choices and face the music over his rulings.