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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Shas ministers threatened a coalition crisis over the weekend if the cabinet and Knesset do not act to overturn a Jerusalem court ruling on Thursday that Israeli stores and eateries can sell hametz (leavened products) over Pessah.
Sources in Shas said Friday that the ministers were demanding that Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit appeal the court decision that allows stores to sell such products during the holiday despite a law forbidding businesses to publicly display hametz. A largely unenforced 1986 law bans the public display of leavened products for sale or consumption during the weeklong holiday.
"We are positive that the relevant parties will appeal the decision," the source said, adding however, that "if someone decides that he is not interested in appealing, then it will cause an uncontainable crisis and all courses of action will be open to us."
But Sheetrit is not expected to be especially helpful after he accused Shas last week of extorting the government. During Kadima's faction meeting, he called upon Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to initiate an election rather than give into the party's demands.
A Shas spokesman said party officials would also ask Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz to take action and initiate a special session of the Knesset, which went on recess last week. He said legislation had already been drafted that would overturn the law.
Shas officials said they had no problem with news reports that Olmert intended to explore the possibility of bringing Meretz into the coalition this week. Olmert intends to examine how to fill the vacant Tourism portfolio as well as the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee, which both became available when Israel Beiteinu quit the coalition in January.
Meretz MKs said it was extremely unlikely that they would join the coalition. A Shas official said Meretz was welcome in the coalition if it signed onto the existing coalition guidelines.
Meanwhile, National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer on Saturday strongly criticized the ongoing peace talks with the Palestinians, warned of the establishment of a binational state in Israel and reiterated his call to free jailed Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti.
Speaking at a 'Cultural Shabbat' event in Haifa, Ben-Eliezer said the current peace talks were "virtual negotiations."
"Only freeing Barghouti can change the picture. I respect [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas and [PA Prime Minister Salaam] Fayad. They are good people. But what happened to the 60,000 weapons transferred to them? Everything is now under Hamas's control. I am looking for someone with whom a deal can be struck," he said.
The infrastructures minister warned that Hamas could soon take control of the West Bank. "At this rate, Hamas will soon take over the West Bank. In my opinion, the only one who can stop this is Marwan Barghouti."
He warned that in the absence of a peace deal, a third Arab nationalist movement would be set up which, in turn, would lead to the establishment of a binational state on Israeli territory.
"What have we achieved in 41 years of settlements in the territories? Two Palestinian nationalist movements," said the infrastructures minister. "At this rate, we will get a third nationalist movement comprised of Israeli Arabs. We are heading toward a binational state and therefore, we have a great interest, more than the Palestinians, of reaching a deal, if we want to retain our small, Zionist Israel." Regarding recent political developments, Ben-Eliezer estimated that the next political contest will be between Labor and Likud. "I am not certain that Kadima will disappear, but the public have a long score to settle with [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert. I will not oppose a unification with Kadima, but certainly not before the elections."
In reference to Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, Ben-Eliezer said that he was sure the public had not forgotten how as finance minister Netanyahu was only concerned about the wealthier sectors of society.
Concerning Labor chairman Ehud Barak, Ben-Eliezer said that he was currently "the most important figure for Israel due to the security challenges we face, which preferably should remain undisclosed to the public." Nevertheless, he said Barak understands a lot about security and defense but much less about politics, stressing that the defense minister therefore needed a strong support base.
Jonny Hadi contributed to this report.