Expansion of government in doubt
There were difficulties passing Lieberman's electoral reform bill in Knesset.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
October 15, 2006 01:32
3 minute read.
Avigdor Lieberman 248.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
While it was speculated Sunday that the addition of Israel Beiteinu to the coalition seemed imminent, the expansion of the government appeared in doubt due to difficulties passing Lieberman's electoral reform bill in the Knesset.
The bill barely passed the ministerial committee on legislation on Sunday and it will likely have to face a vote in the cabinet after Minister-without-Portfolio Eitan Cabel appealed the ministerial committee's decision. If it passes the cabinet, the bill is expected to face stiff opposition when it comes to a vote on a preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum on Wednesday.
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Some 72 MKs intend to oppose the bill with only Kadima and Israel Beiteinu MKs definitely voting in favor. The Israel Beiteinu faction will convene on Monday to decide whether to postpone the vote on the bill, which would delay the party joining the government and significantly decrease the chances of the coalition expanding.
"There are problems on the way to heaven," Lieberman's spokeswoman said.
Coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki said he hoped Israel Beiteinu would join even if the bill did not pass but he said he was also seeking the addition of United Torah Judaism to the coalition as an alternative to Israel Beiteinu. Yitzhaki said a deal with UTJ could be completed "within a few hours" if necessary.
The Labor faction decided late Sunday to unite in opposition to Lieberman's bill. Labor MKs who support Lieberman joining the government, led by Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, called for a meeting of the Labor central committee to decide whether Labor should remain in the government even if Israel Beiteinu joins.
Labor chairman Amir Peretz told the faction at the party's Tel Aviv headquarters that he is against adding Israel Beiteinu to the coalition because of the deep ideological divide between the parties. He accused Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Lieberman of playing political tricks to bring about Israel Beiteinu's addition to the coalition.
"Even if Lieberman accepts the coalition guidelines, it wouldn't be enough because I don't believe in costumes," Peretz said. "Whoever thinks the electoral system can be changed with political thievery and a vote that barely passed in a ministerial committee is committing a sin."
Peretz said his faction must be united in support of the coalition. But he demanded that Olmert restart the diplomatic process and meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas as gestures to Labor.
National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former Labor chairman, warned Peretz not to risk quitting the cabinet to protest against Lieberman's addition. He said Labor was to blame for not supporting the coalition and that he understood why Olmert felt the need to add Lieberman.
"Don't you know the last thing the public wants now is another election?" Ben-Eliezer shouted at Peretz. "If you quit the cabinet, we will have to say kaddish [the mourners prayer] on your political career."
Prior to the faction meeting, six Labor MKs addressed a meeting of Labor's Young Guard that was convened under the banner "say nyet (no) to Lieberman." MK Nadia Hliu, who is a Christian Arab, said that if Lieberman joined, Labor ministers must quit.
"Adding Lieberman would destroy anything Labor wants to represent," Hilu said. "Lieberman presents a serious threat to me and Israeli Arabs. The message it sends to the Arab world is that the entire diplomatic process would be paralyzed."
Lieberman slammed labor for refusing to sit with him, saying their decision was made for personal reasons.
However, Leiberman still expressed hope over the possibility of joining the government. "Everything right now is open. The current reality is that anything could happen, " Lieberman said. "We don't have an ideology of sitting in the opposition, but I will not grab at the horns of the alter to get in."