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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's intentions to lead a government that would implement a further pullback from settlements and find a solution for civil marriages seemed a lot less plausible Sunday night. Kadima and Shas initialed a separate agreement detailing Shas's objections to the coalition guidelines signed last week between Kadima and Labor.
The agreement enabled Shas to finalize its participation in the coalition.
A similar agreement might also pave the road toward Israel Beiteinu joining the government. Party leader Avigdor Lieberman said at a press conference that "the ball is in Kadima's court," though he had been planning to announce the cessation of negotiations and his party's decision to go into opposition.
The final details of the agreement between Kadima and Shas were ironed out at a meeting between Olmert and Shas chairman Eli Yishai in the afternoon, following a marathon session on Saturday night between Yishai and Shas negotiator David Glass and Olmert's adviser Ovad Yehezkel.
Shas's main objections were to the clauses in the coalition guidelines that referred to "a reduction of the areas of Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria" and that "the government will bring without delay legislation to solve the problem of those unable to get married."
Olmert agreed that Yishai would sign a letter that would be attached to the coalition agreement underlining Shas's objection to the settlements clause and the fact that the party will not be bound by it any way. Shas also received a major concession on civil marriage in a clause saying that any legislation would be brought "only with the agreement of all coalition partners."
Yishai explained to reporters last night that the meaning was "there is going to be no law."
The other details of the agreement included four ministers for Shas: industry, trade and labor; communications; a minister-without-portfolio in the Prime Minister's Office in charge of religious services; and another minister-without-portfolio in either the Treasury or Education Ministry.
Yishai explained that Shas had joined the coalition on the basis of Olmert's victory speech on election night that hadn't included any direct mention of evacuating settlements. He added that he hoped to see both Israel Beiteinu and United Torah Judaism in the coalition.
Earlier on at a press conference at Israel Beiteinu's headquarters in Jerusalem, Lieberman accused Kadima of holding "zigzag negotiations" with his party and of "disqualifying an entire movement and community by not agreeing that any of our members serve as internal security minister."
He also referred to the clause in the guidelines on settlements and said that "it definitely can't bind us." But he didn't demand it be deleted from the guidelines, and said "we are still open to entering the coalition, the ball is in Kadima's court. We are prepared to be loyal members of the coalition."
After the press conference, he told The Jerusalem Post that he hadn't spoken to Olmert, but "we're talking to them all the time."
No Kadima spokesmen agreed to comment on the agreement with Shas or on the possibility of reaching a deal with Israel Beiteinu.
Despite what seemed a breach of the coalition guidelines signed only last week with Kadima, Labor Party leaders didn't seem perturbed and were concerned only with the vote in the central committee over the method of appointing Labor's ministers. David Liba'i, the head of Labor's negotiating team, said that "the guidelines bind all the parties in the coalition" but conceded that a deal exempting some of those parties from part of the guidelines was possible.
At least one party was enraged by the deal reached by Shas. UTJ's representatives broke off their talks with Kadima last night, claiming that the clause over civil marriage was unacceptable to them. Most of their ire, though, was reserved for Shas, which was accused of acting against the interests of the haredi community by closing a deal on its own.