Shas, UTJ discuss united haredi front in Knesset
Lieberman denies reports that negotiated with Olmert about joining coalition.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN, JPOST.COM STAFF
October 16, 2006 13:51
3 minute read.
eli yishai 298 88 aj.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Shas Chairman Eli Yishai met Monday evening with United Torah Judaism (UTJ) leader Yaakov Litzman in the Knesset to coordinate the haredi parties' position on the proposed changes in the electoral system, Army Radio reported.
Sources close to the two said after the meeting that the two men had also discussed the possibility that UTJ would join the government in order to present a united front against legislative action being put forward by Israel Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman.
Earlier Monday, Lieberman told his faction at the Knesset that he has not negotiated with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert about joining the government.
Olmert's associates said talks between the two men have continued "at the highest level," but Lieberman said he spoke to the prime minister for only two minutes since their meeting at the prime minister's residence 11 days ago.
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"The prime minister has taken realignment off the table, he has agreed to find a solution for couples unable to marry and he supports changing the government so the gaps have been bridged," Lieberman told the faction. "But if you ask me whether there are coalition negotiations, the answer is no."
Lieberman lashed out at the Labor Party for opposing his joining the cabinet, saying that Labor MKs opposed him for personal reasons. Asked about Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz's plan to remove outposts, Lieberman said he would prefer that the defense minister focus his efforts on bringing home the kidnapped soldiers and defeating Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Olmert gave Kadima MKs at their faction meeting the impression that a deal with Israel Beiteinu was nearly a fait accompli. He said his main goals would be passing the 2007 state budget, changing the governmental system and adopting a constitution, steps that Israel Beiteinu would help him accomplish.
"My contacts [with Lieberman] have not yet developed into a full agreement, but I hope the matter will soon be finalized," Olmert said. "I am optimistic. I believe [expanding the coalition] is important and possible and I favor it. I understand Peretz and Labor, but I cannot accept them ruling out a Zionist faction or a man for personal reasons."
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Kadima should pass its bill for changing the governmental system immediately and not "get dragged into supporting" Lieberman's electoral reform proposal, which she said did not fit Kadima's principles. She warned that adopting the presidential system as Lieberman advocates would "drive crazy a country that has been through so much strife in the past decade."
Peretz told the Labor faction he preferred the current makeup of the coalition, adding that Israel Beiteinu "would help the government survive but would unfortunately deepen the stalemate on every issue."
The Labor faction decided late Sunday night to oppose Israel Beiteinu's addition to the coalition and to take steps to enforce coalition discipline so that Israel Beiteinu would not be needed. Labor MKs Yoram Marciano and Shelley Yacimovich, who voted against the decision, said Monday they were upset that they were not consulted before the vote.
"We debated for three hours last night and then voted on a decision that had been printed before the meeting," Marciano complained. "Don't insult my intelligence. I am part of this faction. I am sorry I came."
"Why didn't we just vote by fax?" Yacimovich asked. "What is this, a Bolshevik regime?"
Faction chairman Ephraim Sneh responded that Marciano and Yacimovich were new MKs and they would learn that it was commonplace that factions vote for proposals that were written in advance of meetings.