Olmert, Lieberman sign coalition deal

Knesset to vote Wednesday; Lieberman: "We are saving the country."

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN, SHEERA CLAIRE FRENKEL
October 22, 2006 00:45
3 minute read.
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Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik announced that the Knesset would vote Wednesday on an agreement with Kadima that would bring Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu into the coalition. Despite vocal opposition from Arab Knesset members, Itzik said, the Knesset would vote immediately after the Id al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. However, out of respect for Muslims, the vote would take place late in the evening.

  • Column One: What Lieberman wants
  • Essay: End the 'partyocracy' MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) lashed out at Itzik for the decision, saying that "holding this vote on Id al-Fitr is the equivalent of holding it on a Jewish holiday like Simhat Torah or Rosh Hashana. It's a disgrace and disrespectful to Muslims, especially since it is Lieberman, who has been so disrespectful to Muslims, who is being voted in." Khenin added that despite his party's opposition, he and other Hadash members would be present for vote. Tibi said the vote was a sign of the new anti-Muslim and racist line the government was taking. Two weeks ago, Lieberman said that negotiations on joining Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition would take only two hours. But it only ended up taking 45 minutes for Olmert and Lieberman to finalize a deal on Monday. Olmert is expected to convene the cabinet in special session on Wednesday to approve the addition of Israel Beiteinu. Olmert's spokesman said the prime minister would make a new effort to bring United Torah Judaism into the coalition when its leader, Ya'acov Litzman, returns to Israel from China later this week. Sources in Kadima and Israel Beiteinu said Olmert and Lieberman held secret talks in which they decided on the wording of the coalition agreement signed Monday. According to the deal, Lieberman will be a deputy prime minister and a minister-without-portfolio in the Prime Minister's Office, in charge of drafting Israel's policies relating to the strategic threats against Israel. He will coordinate between the security and intelligence agencies and the National Security Council. "I decided that the present makeup of the coalition would not be enough to maintain a stable government," Olmert told the Kadima faction. "I think that Labor will be wise enough to remain in the government because I was not prepared to continue dealing with a situation in which every important coalition vote required negotiations with another coalition MK." Olmert said he hoped Labor would decide to remain in the coalition when its central committee holds a decisive meeting on Sunday. Lieberman told the Israel Beiteinu faction that they were not joining the coalition to fight with anyone, including Labor. He said he could "write a book already" on everything that has been said about him in the media regarding his motivation for joining the government. He said people in the media found it hard to believe that a politician could make sound decisions for the good of the country over personal, political decisions. The deal between Israel Beiteinu and Kadima, Lieberman said, would ensure that the two parties worked together to advance electoral reforms and to find a solution for couples prohibited to marry by the government due to Jewish law. Lieberman on Monday came to the National Union-National Religious Party faction to try to persuade its MKs to support his electoral reform bill. National Union MKs, who were part of the same faction as Lieberman until earlier this year, slammed him for "betraying the Right" that he had hoped to lead. "Israel Beiteinu sacrificed its principles by joining a left-wing government," National Union faction chairman Uri Ariel said. "It is irresponsible to save a government that the public, the IDF and the soldiers don't trust." United Arab List-Ta'al MK Ahmed Tibi said the addition of a "fascist and racist party" showed Olmert's true colors.

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