(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition partners on the Right - Israel Beiteinu and Shas - urged him on Tuesday to return from the peace talks in Annapolis straight to military moves in the Gaza Strip.
Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman and Shas chairman Eli Yishai said they would remain in the government until actual concessions are implemented, downplaying Olmert's pledges to make painful compromises after negotiations which will begin next month. But they made clear that to keep them satisfied, Olmert must act immediately to stop rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.
"The goal has to be dismantling Hamas in the Gaza Strip and we are demanding this," Lieberman said. "Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] and [Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam] Fayad expect us to act against Hamas in Gaza just as much as the people of Sderot, who deserve to sleep at night."
Lieberman called the speeches of US President George W. Bush, Olmert and Abbas "pathetic declarations that we have heard before."
He mocked the joint declaration of Olmert and Abbas that Bush read at the conference, saying that "we saw how hard it was for them to even reach a small, pitiful statement that they could agree on."
Yishai also expressed doubt that the forthcoming negotiations between Olmert and Abbas would accomplish anything and he questioned Olmert's decision to negotiate with a Palestinian leader lacking the power to implement any potential deal.
"Both sides presented their dreams and the question is to what reality we will wake up," Yishai said. "The Palestinian leadership still hasn't undertaken its first commitment in the road map of stopping violence and that means stopping the Kassams and the incitement. I support peace with a real partner but not a virtual one."
Yishai said that his party's red line for remaining in the coalition would be concessions in Jerusalem. He warned Olmert in an interview with Channel 10 not to take Shas for granted.
"We want peace too, but right now, it's a fantasy," Yishai said. "Only after terror stops can we talk about concessions. We have been in the opposition before and we are not afraid to return there. When we see that the government is proceeding toward danger, we will no longer remain in the government."
Former Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz welcomed the possibility of a government without Shas and Israel Beiteinu in an interview with Radio Kol Chai. He said the government could survive with the backing of parties like Meretz.
"If there will be problems with [Shas and Israel Beiteinu], I think we can rely on support from the left-wing parties in the opposition," Peretz said. "In any case, the next general election won't be until 2009."
Meretz leader Yossi Beilin was among the few opposition members to applaud Olmert's speech. He said that if the prime minister intended to go through with all the promises he made at Annapolis, he would need to break with the right-wing factions in his coalition.
National Union-National Religious Party MKs released statements expressing outrage at hints in Olmert's speech that he would be willing to concede parts of Jerusalem in future peace negotiations.
"The time has come for Lieberman and Shas to break from the government, before the government breaks up Jerusalem," NU-NRP MK Effi Eitam said.
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