Olmert says he wants to expand coalition

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
September 19, 2006 01:26
2 minute read.

 
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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Kadima MKs at his official residence in Jerusalem on Monday that he intends to continue with efforts to bring additional parties into his coalition. Olmert invited the MKs and their spouses to the festive event in an effort to improve morale in the faction, which has seen the central plank of its electoral platform of withdrawing unilaterally from most of the West Bank abandoned and several of its leaders under investigation. Participants described the event as "warm and positive." "I have not given up on the possibility of widening the government," Olmert told the MKs in a 40-minute address. "I still think it is possible if we act with wisdom and patience. I want Labor to remain a central part of the coalition but I expect its leaders to behave responsibly and I know not to rely on them." Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, who is the closest minister to Olmert, said in an interview with the Knesset Channel on Monday that Israel Beiteinu would be a preferable to Labor as a coalition partner because Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman was more reliable than Labor Chairman Amir Peretz. Peretz told a crowd at a forum on socioeconomic issues at Labor's Tel Aviv headquarters on Monday that he was not afraid of returning to the opposition. "We should not be worried if our red lines force us to make political decisions that would lead to the breakup of the coalition," Peretz said. "Over the next three months until the final Knesset vote on the budget, Labor will have to decide whether its place is in the coalition or not, knowing that if we leave a rightist government can be formed with Lieberman and [Likud Chairman] Netanyahu." Peretz told Defense Ministry workers on Monday that he enjoyed being defense minister, but he told Labor activists he was "contemplating his future." "There is no doubt that the last four months require all of us to reconsider the consequences of being part of a coalition that we do not lead," Peretz said. "We need to check whether we are able to influence or whether the framework limits you from implementing your worldview." While Peretz is questioning Labor's future in the coalition, Shas has strengthened its foothold in the government. Olmert formally appointed Minister-without-Portfolio Meshulam Nahari of Shas as a Minister-without-Portfolio in the Finance Ministry in charge of educational and socioeconomic issues. A Shas spokesman said the appointment was in accordance with the coalition agreement and did not indicate that Shas would support the 2007 state budget when it comes to a vote in the Knesset. Minister-without-Portfolio Ya'acov Edri of Kadima said he was still patiently waiting to know if Olmert would fulfill his promise to appoint him to fill the vacancy at the Welfare Ministry. Olmert told last Tuesday's cabinet meeting that he would appoint a welfare minister. "I am showing restraint now but next week I might have something to say," Edri said.

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