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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is set to present the framework of his new government to President Moshe Katsav on Sunday, after Kadima officials signed a coalition agreement with Labor and completed a deal with Shas on Thursday night.
Olmert would hold consultations with potential Kadima ministers on Sunday and appoint them on Monday, with the goal of holding a swearing-in ceremony on Thursday, the interim prime minister told Kadima MKs in a meeting at the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry in Jerusalem.
Olmert said negotiations with Israel Beiteinu had been unsuccessful and that talks with Meretz would likely restart on Friday.
"Unfortunately, it looks hopeless that Israel Beiteinu will join the coalition, but we will try to talk to them again," Olmert said in the meeting.
But the head of Israel Beiteinu's negotiating team, MK Yuri Shtern, said that after hearing details of the agreement Kadima signed with Labor, he was "even less optimistic than before." Shtern particularly objected to a clause calling for "a reduction in the land that will be settled in Judea and Samaria."
"If Olmert wants us in the coalition, he has to make an effort to show us we are wanted, but so far he has done only the opposite," Shtern said.
Kadima negotiating team head Yoram Turbowitz called Meretz MK Ran Cohen on Thursday to renew contacts between the parties. Turbowitz said he would give Israel Beiteinu until Friday to change its tune before negotiations begin with Meretz, which had ruled out joining a government with Israel Beiteinu.
Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday that he did not believe Olmert's government would last very long.
But a Kadima negotiating team member held out hope that "after saying 'Nyet, nyet' ['No, no' in Russian], Israel Beiteinu will eventually say 'da' ['yes']."
Kadima and Labor officials said they were glad that they had succeeded in finalizing a deal between themselves after three weeks of talks and five marathon meetings in the past week between Olmert and Labor chairman Amir Peretz.
Labor negotiating team head David Liba'i said the coalition guidelines were a victory for Labor because the party had succeeded in changing the government's priorities to help the workers, the poor, the students, the elderly and the sick.
"The negotiations were difficult, and there were complex times when we were on the cusp of desperation, but it was fair and to the point, and we reached an agreement that is good for both parties and will be good for the nation," Turbowitz said. "It's time to join together to tackle the challenges facing the country."
According to the agreement, Labor would receive the Defense Ministry for Peretz, along with the Education, National Infrastructure, Agriculture and Tourism ministries and two ministers-without-portfolio. The Labor central committee will convene on Sunday to approve the agreement, to decide how the party's ministers will be selected and to choose the ministers.
Outgoing Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz called Peretz on Thursday to congratulate him on his new position. He told Peretz he was sure he would succeed in the position and he offered his assistance and the help of senior defense officials.
The deal also included clauses calling for the immediate removal of illegal outposts and for the pursuit of a solution to help thousands of Israelis who could not be married by the rabbinate. An agreement reached later with Shas specified that Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar would be the halachic authority on solving that problem.
Olmert met late Thursday with Shas chairman Eli Yishai to finalize the deal with a goal of holding signing ceremonies with both Shas and United Torah Judaism on Friday.
In a strongly worded press release, National Union MK Zvi Hendel accused Shas of "betraying its voters" and said Shas would join Kadima voters in hell.
The Gil Pensioners Party, which became the first party to sign a coalition agreement on Wednesday, held an election on Thursday for the Health portfolio it received. The new health minister will be MK Ya'acov Ben-Yizri, who defeated MK Moshe Sharoni by a 9-8 vote in the party secretariat.