Shas wants Bar-On out of Treasury

Finance minister has refused Shas's demands to raise welfare benefits; Atias to 'Post': We're ready to dissolve gov't.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN,
September 23, 2008 05:18
2 minute read.
Shas wants Bar-On out of Treasury

Bar-On cabinet 248.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])

 
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Shas officials will tell new Kadima leader Tzipi Livni in coalition talks that "promoting" Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On away from the Treasury would make it much more likely for the party to join the coalition, a Shas source said Monday. Bar-On has refused dozens of attempts to reach a compromise with Shas in recent months over its demand for a raise in child welfare benefits. Shas officials expressed hope that Bar-On could replace Livni as foreign minister and that defeated Kadima leadership contender Shaul Mofaz, who has expressed support for raising the benefits, could become finance minister. "If Livni decides to promote Bar-On, it would certainly be easier to reach a deal," the Shas source said. Bar-On's spokeswoman declined to comment. Communications Minister Ariel Atias, the number two man in Shas, warned Livni that the party was ready to vote for dissolving the Knesset before the Kadima leadership race was initiated in July and that from his perspective nothing had changed. "I want Shas to realize its goals for the public that voted for it and that means fighting for the poor, the weak stratum of society," Atias said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post at his Jerusalem office. "If we can do it with the present government, that is preferable. If we cannot, then we have to go to elections." Atias vowed that Shas would not compromise on its goals of raising child welfare benefits and preventing negotiations on Jerusalem. He said that like Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Livni had also assured Shas that the Jerusalem issue had not been raised in talks with the Palestinians. "Elections are not a goal for us but a means for attaining something after you have exhausted your other options," Atias said. "Maybe with a different government you will be able to realize what you need to attain." Asked about polls predicting the return to the premiership of Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, who cut child welfare benefits, Atias said he was "not fooling himself" that his party would have an easier time on socioeconomic issues with Netanyahu. "There is no guarantee that we will receive what we want for the poor from a new government, but if we know that we won't get what we want from the present government, we have nothing to lose," Atias said. "A party with principles says to itself: If I am not getting what I want, then I have to leave the government." Atias was previously thought to be pushing for Shas to enter the government while Shas chairman Eli Yishai was said to be in favor of elections. In recent days, the roles might have been reversed, as Yishai has said he would "not push for elections" while Atias has talked increasingly tough. "We want cash money in the bank account of families with children so that they receive a bare minimum on which to support themselves with food," Atias said. "If we go to elections, people will appreciate what we have tried to do for the poor."

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