kadima 298 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Forming a coalition with Labor, Shas and the Gil Pensioners Party would cost tens of billions of shekels if Kadima gave in to all their demands, sources in Kadima's negotiating team said on Monday.
Kadima's negotiating team briefed Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday night about the progress in the first round of coalition talks that ended earlier that day. Olmert decided that the entire teams of Kadima and Labor should meet again on Tuesday afternoon, while smaller teams would meet with representatives from each party throughout the day to draft the coalition guidelines and work out differences over funding issues.
"There is nowhere near enough room in the budget, and all the parties know it," a Kadima negotiating team member said. "When we asked them where to find the money to pay for their demands, they all suggested cutting the defense budget. We said that, with all they are asking, we would have to cut the entire defense budget."
Gil representative Elie Goldschmidt responded that his party's demands were reasonable and that "there is a difference between a party making sectarian demands for its own constituents and our demands, which help people of all ages."
Despite the differences, Kadima officials said the coalition guidelines would be finalized in a week to 10 days, allowing negotiations over portfolios to begin.
Labor negotiating team member Rahel Turjeman told Army Radio that Labor was ready to "struggle" for the Finance portfolio to be given to party chairman Amir Peretz, a demand Kadima has ruled a non-starter.
Even though Monday's talks with United Torah Judaism, Shas and Gil left few details to be worked out, Kadima has promised that it would not finalize a coalition deal with any party before Labor. Kadima officials expressed fear that Labor would take advantage of this commitment to hold the talks hostage and prevent them from advancing with any party.
An issue that could end up being a problem for the haredi parties is Kadima's promise to enact legislation to enable thousands of non-Jews to marry in civil ceremonies. Shas and UTJ have said they would agree to a solution only within the bounds of halacha, while Israel Beiteinu has ruled out joining a government that did not address the issue.
Kadima's team met Monday with Meretz MKs, who said they would not join a government with Israel Beiteinu. The Meretz MKs urged Peretz not to break his promise that he would not join a cabinet together with Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman. They said that, were Olmert serious about implementing his convergence plan, he would bring their party into the coalition and not Lieberman.
"Olmert will have to choose between Lieberman - who opposes his plan, would put spokes in his wheels and would break up his zigzagging coalition - or us, who support his plan," Meretz MK Avshalom Vilan said. "He needs to decide whether he is a national leader who will make history or whether he just wants to bide time. If he wants to make history, we are his partner."
Vilan said the Kadima team told him that, after the plan's implementation, no settlements would remain on the other side of the security fence. Vilan said the total number of settlements to be evacuated would be 68, but Kadima officials denied the figure.
Kadima negotiators said they were surprised to see that the party with the least demands was UTJ. The head of Kadima's negotiating team, Yoram Turbowitz, said that Olmert had a history of good relations with the haredi community and that he expected those relations to continue in his government.
"Based on what we heard from Kadima, I think the negotiations will advance quickly," UTJ MK Moshe Gafni said. "I don't think we will be conducting intensive consultations during Pessah, but we don't have too many demands and I believe we can finish this quickly."
Likud Knesset faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar called Turbowitz on Monday to inform him officially that the Likud faction decided against continuing negotiations. He said the gaps between the two parties on diplomatic issues were too wide and that the Likud would be better off fighting Olmert's plan from the opposition.