Sharon, Fearing Defeat, Retracts Ministerial Appointments

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, seeing that his plan to reward to award his supporters with ministerial appointments would not pass the Knesset, has retracted the appointments.

, | updated: 11:07

However, five supporters have been appointed deputy ministers – appointments that do not require Knesset approval.

Sharon announced last night that he would appoint three new Cabinet Ministers and five new Deputy Ministers from among his loyal supporters.

The decision was described as "base corruption" by many MKs on both sides of the political spectrum.

According to Sharon's plan, MKs Roni Bar-On and Ze'ev Boim, who staunchly supported his disengagement and opposed a referendum on it throughout the last few months, were to be appointed Cabinet ministers. Bar-On was to become Minister of Absorption, while Boim was to be the Liaison Minister between the Government and the Knesset. To retain the Labor Party's proportionate strength in the government, Labor's Ephraim Sneh was to be appointed Minister Without Portfolio. Some reports said that would take the place of Matan Vilnai, who was to assume the Ministry of Science.

However, in light of strong opposition even from within the Likud and Labor, Sharon and the government retracted the idea this evening, just minutes before the vote was to be held. Many MKs were infuriated, both at Sharon's plan to "bribe" the MKs with ministerial appointments, and then at his last-second retraction, causing the Knesset great inconvenience and humiliation.

Sharon succeeded, however, in rewarding some of his supporters, doling out deputy minister positions to the following five quiet but loyal supporters: Ruchama Avraham will become Deputy Interior Minister; Gila Gamliel – Deputy Agriculture Minister; Eli Aflalo – Deputy Trade Minister; Marina Solodkin – Deputy Absorption Minister; and Majali Wahabe – Deputy Public Security Minister.

The ministerial and deputy-ministerial appointments, which were coordinated with Associate Prime Minister Shimon Peres, were approved by the Cabinet this morning. The deputy ministerial appointments do not require Knesset approval.

Unrelated to the above developments, MK Avraham Ravitz of the United Torah Judaism party will assume the position of Deputy Welfare Minister, with no Welfare Minister above him, and MK Shmuel Halpert will become Deputy Minister of Transportation. This is in keeping with the hareidi party's policy of not taking part in the Cabinet of the Jewish State, and after Rabbi Elyashiv ratified that the Likud had fulfilled a sufficient number of its coalition promises to UTJ.

If the Knesset would have given its OK today to the political appointments, the Cabinet would have numbered 25 ministers – 16 of the Likud, 9 of Labor. The number of deputy ministers was to be 11 – six of the Likud (including Yaakov Edry), three from Labor, and two from United Torah Judaism.

Of the 59 MKs of Likud and Labor, 32 would have been ministers or deputy ministers (Mofaz and Sharansky are not MKs), and only 27 would have be "regular" MKs. The new large Cabinet table that was used in the Knesset earlier in this term was to have to been returned to the Knesset.

At least five Labor MKs said they would vote against the appointments: Collete Avital, Yuli Tamir, Amram Mitzna, Danny Yatom and Avraham Shochat.

Reactions in the political establishment were fast and furious. Likud MK Michael Ratzon, who was fired as Deputy Minister several months ago because of his opposition to the disengagement plan, said this morning, "Today is a sad day, one in which we have institutionalized prostitution."

"Yes, it's been done before," Ratzon said, "but never in such a brutal way – this is corruption of the lowest level that can be, straight out bribery. A normal state cannot remain silent in the face of this... To do this on such a mass scale – it means that we're on our way to being a third-world country."

MK Tzvi Hendel (National Union): "In the Mafia family of Sharon, Don Corleone gives out gifts to his supporters and tries to liquidate his opponents."

Dalia Itzik, only recently appointed as Minister of Communications with Labor's entry into the coalition government, said, "It's truly awkward – to do something like this just a day after the budget; very upleasant."

Within the Likud, it was said that Sharon has become the head of the Sharon faction in the Likud, worrying only about his supporters.

Likud MK Michael Eitan, Chairman of the Knesset Law Committee, was critical of the appointments.

Many MKs, speaking in the Knesset today, criticized the open bribery of Sharon in trying to reward his supporters so brazenly. They also mocked the high number of ministers and deputy ministers in the government. Some said that the position of deputy minister is totally unnecessary and useless.

Many MKs said that Sharon runs the government in the same arbitrary and roughshod manner that he uses to run his HaShikmim Farm in the Negev. Others said that the Knesset could not allow itself to stoop to such low levels by approving the appointments.