Monday, September 17, 2007

Barak: Ayalon joining cabinet won't extend Olmert's tenure

Olmert's associates praised Barak for bringing Ayalon into the cabinet Sources close to Labor chairman Ehud Barak rejected claims by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's associates on Sunday that the addition of Labor MK Ami Ayalon to the cabinet was a sign the party would remain in the government longer than expected.
Olmert's associates praised Barak for bringing Ayalon into the cabinet and expressed hope that Ayalon's joining was a sign that Labor was in the government for the long haul.
Ayalon met with Olmert ahead of his decision to join the government, and Ayalon reportedly hinted that he would not become a minister if it was for only a few months.
But sources close to Barak said he was still committed to his promise to remove Labor from the government ahead of the release of the Winograd Committee on the Second Lebanon War's final report, which is expected at the beginning of 2008. They cautioned Olmert's associates against "making political spin" out of an internal Labor issue.
"The people in the Prime Minister's Office are wrong if they think Ami entering the cabinet will help this government complete its term in office," a source close to the defense minister said. "Barak will make the decision about how long to keep Labor in the government based on what is right for him under the circumstances at the time. The decision will not be impacted by Ami joining the government."
The sources said the main factor that would determine how long Labor remained in the government would be Barak's success in repairing his image with the public. Barak loyalists said that adding Ayalon to the government would help in this quest because it would neutralize opposition to Barak within the party.
The defense minister himself praised Ayalon in a meeting of Labor ministers on Sunday. Barak told the ministers that he had wanted Ayalon to join the cabinet immediately upon his election as Labor leader. Barak received a commitment from Ayalon to not run against him in the next race for party chairman in return for the cabinet position.
Olmert's associates said they expected Ayalon to be "statesmanlike" in the cabinet and not to present internal opposition. They said his appointment, which was approved by the cabinet on Sunday, was a positive sign from Barak.
"Ayalon's joining points to Labor's intention to have a permanent presence in this government and to join in the reshaping of the Middle East," said Kadima MK Menahem Ben-Sasson, who is one of the closest lawmakers to Olmert. "People who want to leave the coalition tomorrow don't strengthen their hold inside the government."
Legislators from across the political spectrum bashed Ayalon for breaking three promises by joining the cabinet. Ayalon ruled out joining an Olmert-led government after the interim Winograd Report was released in April; he repeatedly ruled out ever becoming a minister-without-portfolio; and he promised MK Avishay Braverman (Labor) that he would not join the cabinet without him.
Labor MK Eitan Cabel, who resigned from the cabinet in May, noted that Ayalon had criticized him when he became a minister-without-portfolio, calling such positions "fictitious" and a "waste of taxpayers money."
Cabel said that Ayalon promised to bring a cleaner, different kind of politics, but ended up acting like just another politician.
"Ayalon metamorphosed from Mr. Clean to Dr. Zigzag," National Religious Party chairman Zevulun Orlev said. "This is a sad day for Israeli democracy, when a new record was set for betrayal of principles in return for a post as minister of nothing."
Dani Cohen, a strategist for Ayalon, said the criticism was unjustified, because the experience of the former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Israel Navy head was needed in the cabinet.
"There are grave security concerns right now and we cannot afford to play the normal political games," Cohen said. "Things are different now than six months ago [when he made the commitments]. Even though he may have to pay a price, he was ready to make a sacrifice."
Politicians and advisers close to Ayalon had recommended that he not join the government. But he was concerned that if he remained a backbencher, he would lose his leadership role in the party and the support he developed when running for Labor leader.
A source close to Ayalon said he already decided two months ago to join the government and that he had been looking for the right time to announce this. Braverman said he was not disappointed in Ayalon and that he would continue his political alliance with him.
"The will of a man has to be respected," Braverman said. "We will still be friends and we will continue to collaborate."

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