Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz, who was victorious in Thursday's ministerial election, informed Labor chairman Shimon Peres on Saturday night that he intends to accept Labor's senior portfolio, the Interior Ministry.
Pines-Paz, who was a member of Jerusalem's conservative Kehilat Ya'ar Ramot Synagogue, said he would not reveal his goals as Interior Minister until he takes office, but told The Jerusalem Post that he considers himself a "proud conservative Jew."
"The Interior portfolio is important because it provides a challenge and an opportunity to influence the daily lives of all Israeli citizens: Jews, Arabs, new immigrants, young people, and more," said Pines-Paz, a former deputy director-general of the Jewish Agency's Aliyah Department.
Sharon's associates admitted that the prime minister considers Pines-Paz "inappropriate for a senior portfolio." They said that Pines-Paz, a strong Sharon critic, does not have the requisite experience and is not ready for such a promotion.
"We would have preferred that Fuad [MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer] win the race, but it is up to Labor and we don't want to interfere," a source close to Sharon said. "We wanted someone to fix what [former interior minister Avraham] Poraz did. The Likud mayors are still recovering."
In response, Pines-Paz told Army Radio: "I aimed for the smallest portfolio that Labor was supposed to get according to the coalition agreement, but the members of the central committee decided to give me the biggest portfolio. If that is a problem for someone, he should speak his piece."
Pines-Paz said he has decided not to join the crowded field of candidates for the Labor chairmanship. He said he wants to concentrate full time on being a minister.
Following Pines-Paz's decision to take Interior, second-place finisher Isaac Herzog said he would accept the Construction and Housing portfolio, Ben-Eliezer National Infrastructures, Dalia Itzik Communications, and Shalom Simhon Environment. Matan Vilna'i and Haim Raon will be ministers-without-portfolio.
Herzog said he would have two goals in his post: To help advance development zones in the Galilee and the Negev and the disengagement plan.
Ben-Eliezer and Vilna'i intend to ask Labor chairman Shimon Peres for spots in Sharon's security cabinet. Peres must choose three Labor ministers to join him in the security cabinet.
Sharon is expected to appoint at least two Likud ministers and two deputy ministers, as early as the end of this week, depending on how fast the Knesset Law Committee advances the bill to appoint Peres vice premier.
One of the portfolios will go to Knesset Finance Committee chairman Avraham Hershson. The other is being contested by Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim, Deputy Internal Security Minister Ya'acov Edri and Knesset House Committee chairman Roni Bar-On. MKs Gila Gamliel and Ruhama Avraham expect to be named deputies.
Sharon's associates denied a report in the Hebrew press that Sharon has promised Peres the authority for contact with the European Union, World Bank, International Monitory Fund, and other international organizations in matters related to the disengagement plan and the "day after the disengagement." Such responsibilities would take powers away from Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
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