Israeli Cabinet Approves Muslim Minister


JERUSALEM: January 29, 2007. Israel was on the verge of installing the first Muslim Cabinet minister in its 58-year history Monday after the government overwhelmingly approved the appointment.

Parliament was scheduled to convene to give final approval to Raleb Majadele`s appointment, which the government billed as a step toward equality for Muslim Arabs, Israel`s largest minority. The appointment was mired for weeks in political infighting and charges of racism. It drew criticism from hard-liners who said the move was little more than political expediency. Even Arab lawmakers dismissed the development, saying the government has little real interest in improving the lot of Israel`s Arabs. Majadele told Associated Press Television News that his goals as a Cabinet minister without portfolio would be "promoting coexistence between the two peoples inside the state, and promoting dialogue between the Palestinians and the Israelis toward negotiations and political agreement." Majadele, a parliamentary backbencher from the centrist Labor Party, said his appointment is meant to give representation to Israel`s Arabs, which make up about 20 percent of the country`s 7 million citizens. He has predicted that in the future, every Israeli government will be obliged to include an Arab minister. Israel`s parliament has always had Arab lawmakers _ today, they number 13 members out of 120. But the country has had only one Arab Cabinet minister before: Salah Tarif, a Druse, who was appointed in 2001 and forced to resign nine months later under a cloud of corruption allegations. This appointment was more contentious because Muslim and Christian Arabs, unlike the Druse, don`t serve in the army and have a weaker identification with Israel. Arabs lag behind Israel`s Jewish population in income, education and standard of living, and have long lacked representation in government commensurate with their numbers. Wasil Taha, a lawmaker from the Arab Balad party, said there was little chance Majadele would be able to have a positive effect by working inside the government. "Progress for Israel`s Arabs depends on changing the entire discriminatory approach of the government over the past 58 years, and not on the appointment of a minister or deputy minister," Taha said. Israel was founded in 1948. From the moment Defense Minister Amir Peretz, the embattled Labor Party leader, plucked Majadele from political obscurity to fill a vacant Cabinet post designated for the centrist party, the move was dogged by political squabbling in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert`s fractious coalition government. Olmert dragged his feet on approving the appointment pending an upcoming Cabinet shuffle, and some members of the Yisrael Beiteinu party opposed the appointment on ideological grounds, with one member decrying it as "a fatal blow to Zionism." In the end, hard-line Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman was the only Cabinet member to vote against the appointment. Lieberman accused Peretz of exploiting the nomination to seek Arab backing in the primary voting. Arab lawmakers slammed Majadele for joining the government alongside Yisrael Beiteinu. "It`s not moral for an Arab lawmaker to join a government alongside Lieberman, the racist," the Balad party`s Taha said.

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