eli yishai speech298 88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In his first direct challenge to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert since joining his coalition, Shas chairman Eli Yishai called upon him Monday to suspend his talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas until the Palestinians halt terrorism.
Yishai has been under pressure from the Right to act tough amid reports that Olmert was negotiating the division of Jerusalem and the return of Palestinian refugees in his talks with Abbas. But Yishai had refrained from issuing threats, because he wanted to repair Shas's image as a serial initiator of coalition crises.
"Coming to a summit while terrorism continues is a decision that is doomed to failure," Yishai told reporters at the Shas faction. "The summit is liable to bring about more terrorism, which happened when Barak went to Camp David. Olmert needs to cancel [the summit]. Drafting a document would be artificial and pointless."
Yishai said it was wrong to even discuss the future of Jerusalem with the Palestinians. He said giving up Arab neighborhoods on the eastern side of the capital would lead to Israel giving up Jewish neighborhoods like Rehavia.
"If we talk to the Palestinians, it should be about issues like respecting previous agreements and stopping Kassam rockets and incitement," Yishai said. "Jerusalem is stronger than all Israeli governments past and future. I am against talking about what to give up, because it only damages us."
Yishai said he would instead advocate giving the Palestinians economic incentives and jobs and restart talks with them "in two or three years" if terrorist attacks stopped.
Olmert was also criticized from the Right by Labor chairman Ehud Barak, who warned him against "rash" decision-making and "taking serious matters too lightly" in his talks with Abbas. He said Labor wanted the Annapolis summit to succeed but that Olmert must be careful.
"This is not North America or Western Europe and only we can defend our interests," Barak said. "We need to examine the dangers of not having a diplomatic process and of proceeding forward and later finding out that the other side cannot deliver and has left us with Hamas."
Ironically, the coalition partner that seemed most loyal to Olmert on Monday was Israel Beiteinu. Party chairman Avigdor Lieberman called a press conference in which he reassured Olmert that he saw no reason to leave the coalition.
Lieberman responded to criticism from the Right that he incurred after he revealed in Sunday's cabinet meeting that Israel Beiteinu supported withdrawing from Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem as part of territorial and population exchanges in a diplomatic agreement with the Palestinians.
"Yesterday the Left attacked me, then the Right attacked me," Lieberman said. "When the Left attacked me, I was worried, but when I saw that the Right also attacked me, I realized I must be doing something right."
Lieberman complained about a "strange coalition" against him made up of Right-wing activist Baruch Marzel and National Religious Party chairman Zevulun Orlev, who fiercely criticized his statements on Jerusalem, and Meretz MKs Yossi Beilin and Zehava Gal-On, who blasted him for calling the Israeli Left "kapos." He said Israel Beiteinu's platform on Jerusalem had been on-line on the party's Web site for two years, but that Marzel and Orlev had raised the issue because they were frustrated by their parties' inability to cross the electoral threshold.
Lieberman said that unlike the Left, Israel Beiteinu was not willing to make "concessions" on Jerusalem, just exchanges of populations and territories. He said those exchanges would not include the Old City or Mount Scopus.
"It's wrong to fix the Palestinian problem without addressing the Israeli Arab problem," Lieberman said. "The Jewish people didn't pray to come back to Anata and Shuafat, but also not to Taibe and Umm el-Fahm. In return for Givat Ze'ev and Gush Etzion, we are ready to exchange Anata and Shuafat, where the only connection to Israel is that they receive National Insurance payments."