Olmert 298 .
(photo credit: Ori Porat)
The chances of Israel Beiteinu joining the coalition looked rocky on Sunday as Shas voiced its staunch opposition to allowing civil marriage - one of five conditions the right-wing party laid out for forming a partnership with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government.
Shas emphasized that in order for such legislation to pass, it would have to meet the approval of the entire coalition.
For civil marriage (June 21 editorial)
However, Israel Beiteinu MK Estherina Tartman reasoned that an agreement could be reached with the haredi party on the civil marriage issue.
On Friday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman met and agreed to work together to change the electoral system, fueling speculation that the right-wing party could be one step closer to joining the coalition.
Lieberman told Ynet last week that he would view support by Olmert of his party's call to make such changes as a sign that Kadima wanted his party to enter the government.
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Recent polls have shown that Israel Beiteinu, which has 11 seats in the Knesset, has more public support than the Labor Party, which currently has 19 MKs.
The Prime Minister's Office and an Israel Beiteinu spokeswoman said Saturday night that this last conversation between Olmert and Lieberman focused on changes such as direct elections, as well as the creation of a constitution.
They agreed that bills containing such changes would be introduced by both parties early in the upcoming Knesset session.
But changes to the electoral system, which has long been an important part of Israel Beiteinu's political platform, is just one of five conditions Lieberman has for joining the coalition.
Aside from support for civil marriage, the other demands of the party, which caters to the Russian immigrant vote, are the establishment of a state committee of inquiry to investigate the war in Lebanon, and agreement to drop both the issue of unauthorized outposts and the realignment plan, which calls for further withdrawals from isolated areas of the West Bank.
Science and Sports Minister Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) was among a number of left-wing MKs who rejected the proposed change.
"Direct elections were a big failure and its results were the opposite of its goals," he said. "The problem isn't the governmental system but rather the political culture in Israel. A presidential system without a constitution can be dangerous."
"A change in the government's form was not discussed when we joined the coalition," said MK Ephraim Sneh (Labor) in an interview with Army Radio.
"The prime minister needs to consult other coalition members. If Lieberman and his party enter the coalition, it will not be good for the government."
Minister-without-Portfolio Eitan Cabel (Labor) chalked the meeting up to a tactical move on Olmert's part in advance of the upcoming Knesset debate on the budget.
"I'm not crazy about Lieberman joining the coalition, but Olmert can meet with whomever he wants. But I hope that Olmert understands that the true solution lies not with Lieberman but in strengthening the coalition," said Cabel.
Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon (Labor) said he didn't have a problem with Israel Beiteinu joining the coalition. What bothered him and what should bother other members of his party, he said, was that Olmert was negotiating with other parties at a time when it wasn't even clear if the state budget would pass the Knesset.
Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich said she didn't think her party could serve in the same coalition as Israel Beiteinu. She added that in focusing on electoral-system changes, Olmert was looking for a "magical solution" to the problems plaguing Israeli society.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.
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