Shas, Labor issue new threats to coalition

Channel 10: Livni sent letter to ministers asking every relevant ministry to send a representative to join the negotiation authority.

olmert WAIT 298.88 (photo credit:)
olmert WAIT 298.88
(photo credit: )
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faced two new threats to his 67-MK coalition on Thursday just as Shas retracted its threat to leave the government over secret negotiations about Jerusalem's future that were revealed in The Jerusalem Post. Shas chairman Eli Yishai canceled a planned tour of Jerusalem's controversial Har Homa neighborhood with National Union-National Religious Party MKs that had been set for Thursday once Olmert and Livni promised that no secret talks were taking place and that the Jerusalem issue would not be raised until the end of negotiations with the Palestinians. In a sign that diplomatic talks were advancing significantly, Channel 10 reported Thursday night that Livni sent a letter to cabinet ministers asking every relevant ministry to send a representative to join the negotiation authority headed by Brig.-Gen. Udi Dekel. Shas did not issue a new threat over the letter. But the party's chairman did issue a threat - over child allotments - after Thursday's release of the National Insurance Institute's semiannual report on poverty. Yishai said he would insist on a significant raise in the stipends, which he proposed could be made in stages. "Shas will not remain in a government that remains closefisted toward the children of Israel," Yishai said. "What more needs to happen? How many more poverty reports need to come out until they understand that the only way to escape poverty is to reinstate welfare stipends?" Labor also issued a threat, this time over cuts in tax benefits to northern border communities. Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon, who lives in the North, said he would insist on his party leaving the coalition if the benefits were not restored. "Security does not refer only to the army, but also to the economic security of the people near our borders to the north and south," Labor chairman Ehud Barak said in a meeting of Labor ministers in Tel Aviv. Barak met with the mayors of northern towns Wednesday and vowed to help them. The Labor ministers decided Thursday to try to prevent the cuts at Sunday's cabinet meeting. Deputy coalition chairman Yoel Hasson of Kadima mocked the coalition partners for issuing so many threats. He expressed confidence that the coalition would overcome the new threats as it did more serious ones. "When you sit in the government, you have a lot more influence," Hasson said. "That's why instead of issuing threats, our coalition partners should sit with the Treasury officials and try to change things. I don't think the threats are real. It's okay to disagree. Decisions will be made by a majority and we will continue on together." Over the next few weeks, Olmert is expected to take steps to strengthen his coalition. United Torah Judaism and Meretz have ruled out joining, so Olmert will likely look inside his current coalition to distribute the Tourism portfolio and the Knesset Finance Committee chairmanship that became available when Israel Beiteinu left last month. Channel 1 reported that Olmert has decided to dismantle the Strategic Affairs Ministry that was created for Israel Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman. The ministry's responsibilities will return to the Defense Ministry. Elie Leshem contributed to this report.