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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz intends to ask Prime Minister Ehud Olmert upon his return from Russia on Thursday to add United Torah Judaism and Meretz to his coalition instead of Israel Beiteinu.
In a meeting with UTJ leader Ya'acov Litzman on Wednesday, Peretz told reporters that adding UTJ and Meretz to the coalition would help make socioeconomic issues a priority for the government. His associates noted that UTJ and Meretz combined have 11 seats, the same as Israel Beiteinu.
Peretz said he believed UTJ and Meretz's objectives "more closely match our initial government platform that includes narrowing social gaps."
Litzman told Peretz that his faction would not join the coalition without a hefty rise in child-welfare benefits. Peretz said he would try to convince Olmert to agree to Litzman's demand.
"I don't know why it has taken Kadima so long to accept our demands and bring us into the coalition," Litzman said after the meeting. "Olmert has been stalling for months. I met with him recently and he said he would get back to me soon. He knows he can't talk to anyone else in my party, because not only am I the chairman, I am also the problem."
Litzman leaves on Sunday for a week-long trip to China with members of the Knesset Finance Committee that he chairs. He said he understood that Olmert preferred Israel Beiteinu to UTJ, because of its lower price. But he said that if Israel Beiteinu joined the coalition, Labor might leave and then Olmert would have no choice but to pay UTJ what he could have paid in the first place.
A Meretz spokeswoman called efforts to add Meretz to the coalition "some sort of strange spin." She said Meretz could not understand what Peretz was doing in the government to begin with, and that Meretz did not share the same beliefs or objectives as the government.
In a meeting Wednesday afternoon, the Meretz faction discussed the possibility of joining the government and concluded that it could "have no business in Olmert's government."
With doubt mounting over whether the Knesset was prepared to vote for governmental reform, Israel Beiteinu decided Wednesday morning to remove chairman Avigdor Lieberman's proposal for a presidential system of government from the Knesset's voting lineup.
"We felt it would be unfortunate to sacrifice the bill and thus delay the debate on the issue by six months," said Lieberman.
The removal of the vote from the Knesset agenda occurred only 30 minutes before the vote was scheduled to take place, leading several Israel Beiteinu MKs unsure of whether they should continue efforts to convince other parties to vote for the bill.
"The decision to postpone the vote came directly from Lieberman," said one Israel Beiteinu MK.
According to a party spokesman, Lieberman intends to rally support for the bill and reintroduce it next week. The controversial bill, which would change the current system to presidential regime, was approved by a ministerial committee Sunday. The bill has been one of several issues raised as Israel Beiteinu has considered joining the coalition.
Earlier this week, the Kadima Party rescinded its own bill for electoral reform, announcing they would likely reschedule the vote for next week.