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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
An angry coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday and demanded that he expand the governing coalition immediately.
Labor MKs Avishay Braverman and Orit Noked infuriated Yitzhaki when they refused to support NIS 2 billion worth of budget cuts to finance the war in Lebanon. Yitzhaki shouted at them that their behavior was unacceptable for members of the government, and he went straight to Olmert to demand that Labor be replaced in the coalition.
"We have no coalition right now," Yitzhaki said. "Labor is not homogeneous. Everyone in the party has his own agenda and [Defense Minister] Amir Peretz has no control over his MKs. The coalition cannot go on this way."
Yitzhaki told Olmert he should replace Labor with other parties, or at least expand the coalition to provide a safety net for future rebellions in Labor. He said that any one of five potential coalition partners would be acceptable: United Torah Judaism, Likud, Israel Beiteinu, Meretz and the National Union-National Religious Party.
Olmert responded that he did not intend to make significant changes in the coalition in the near future. But he left open the possibility of changing the coalition by leaving the Justice portfolio available on Tuesday night, when Haim Ramon's resignation took effect.
Olmert declined to hold serious coalition talks with right-wing parties when his government was formed, because he intended to withdraw from most of the West Bank and they would not support the plan. But now that realignment has been removed from Olmert's immediate agenda, Yitzhaki believes the Likud and NU-NRP could become loyal partners.
No one from any of the five parties Yitzhaki mentioned has shown any interest in joining the government, but he believes he will succeed in expanding the coalition because the parties do not have an interest in holding elections soon.
"There is a state of emergency in the country that requires everyone to unite, and no one wants elections now," Yitzhaki said. "Now is the time to build as wide a coalition as possible."
He was joined by Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon of Labor, who slammed his colleagues for their behavior during the Knesset Finance Committee meeting.
Deputy Knesset Speaker Majallie Whbee of Kadima also criticized the Labor MKs for "populist behavior."
"Each time another Labor MK takes his turn. Today MK Orit Noked was chosen to take Shelly Yacimovich's place as rebel. This populist behavior cannot continue," he said.
The NIS 2b. in cuts are meant to finance the costs of the war against Hizbullah, including funds earmarked for reserve soldiers and the rehabilitation of the North. Noked and Braverman said that they could not support the cuts because they came at the expense of other socioeconomic projects that had been promised to developing areas.
"For reasons of conscience, I will not raise my hand in favor of supporting a budget that harms the weak, that harms the Negev and the Galilee," Braverman said before the vote.
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