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Backgrounder Olmert’s Cabinet Includes Some Familiar Veterans, Some New Faces

May 5, 2006
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Following are thumbnail biographical sketches of the main players in Israel’s new government. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: A charismatic ex-mayor of Jerusalem who filled Ariel Sharon’s post when the former prime minister was crippled by a stroke in January, Olmert lacks Sharon’s military pedigree but is considered a shrewd statesman. A scion of the long-dominant Likud Party, Olmert was quick to follow Sharon when the former premier left the Likud to form the more centrist Kadima Party last year. Olmert is considered a pragmatist keen to follow up last year’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank with more far-reaching moves in the West Bank, and to set Israel’s border unilaterally in the absence of peace talks with the Palestinians.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni: As the second woman, after the iconic Gold Meir, to hold the Foreign Affairs portfolio, some expect Livni to similarly rise to top office one day. A one-time Mossad operative, Livni cut her political teeth as immigration and justice minister in previous Likud-led governments. Well before Hamas won Palestinian Authority elections in January, Livni invested months in convincing Western nations to isolate the Islamic terrorist group.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz: Chairman of the Labor Party, senior partner to Olmert’s Kadima in the coalition government, Peretz secured the key Defense Ministry — raising eyebrows given his lack of military experience. A veteran trade unionist, Peretz is considered a Labor firebrand, but since toppling Shimon Peres as party head last year he has alienated colleagues who accuse him of lacking diplomatic vision.

Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson: An Olmert confidant, Hirchson is expected to press ahead with free-market reforms championed by former Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As tourism minister in the previous government, Hirchson helped introduce more competition in Israeli commercial aviation and pursued joint projects with his Palestinian Authority counterpart.

Minister of Regional Development Shimon Peres: As Israel’s elder statesman, Peres was guaranteed a senior role in the new government. He is expected to focus his efforts on developing the Galilee and Negev, areas that have received new attention since the Gaza Strip withdrawal prompted a quest to rehouse former settlers. Winner of the Nobel peace prize for his role as architect of the Oslo peace accords, Peres could also lend diplomatic polish to Olmert’s plan to annex West Bank settlement blocs.

Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter: A former head of the Shin Bet domestic security service who backed the assassination of top Palestinian terrorists, Dichter has made the most dramatic leap from Israel’s security ranks to politics. He is expected to apply his experience to fighting a crime wave sweeping the Jewish state.

The other members of the Cabinet, with their parties and positions, are:

Ariel Atias, Shas, Minister of Communications;

Ronnie Bar-On, Kadima, Minister of the Interior;

Ya’acov Ben Yizri, Gil, Minister of Health;

Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Labor, Minister of National Infrastructures;

Ze’ev Boim, Kadima, Minister of Immigrant Absorption;

Eitan Cabel, Labor, Minister without portfolio (responsible for the Israel Broadcasting Authority);

Yitzhak Cohen, Shas, Minister without portfolio (responsible for the religious councils);

Ya’akov Edri, Kadima, Minister without portfolio (responsible for liaison with the Knesset);

Rafi Eitan, Gil, Minister without portfolio (responsible for pensioners);

Gideon Ezra, Kadima, Minister of the Environment;

Isaac Herzog, Labor, Minister of Tourism;

Shaul Mofaz, Kadima, Minister of Transportation and Road Safety;

Meshulam Nahari, Shas, Minister without portfolio;

Ophir Pines-Paz, Labor, Minister of Science and Technology;

Haim Ramon, Kadima, Minister of Justice;

Meir Sheetrit, Kadima, Minister of Housing and Construction;

Shalom Simhon, Labor, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development;

Yuli Tamir, Labor, Minister of Education, Culture and Sport;

Eli Yishai, Shas, Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor.

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