Attias says Shas believes 'Post' report

Shas number 2 implies Livni undermining PM; Yishai had warned report could force Shas to quit coalition.

Yishai 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Yishai 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Communication Minister Ariel Attias, the number two man in Shas, said Tuesday morning that he believes the Jerusalem Post report which claimed that secret talks had been taking place between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams on the issue of Jerusalem. Shas Chairman Eli Yishai had said that if the Post story was true the party would leave the government. "We get the impression that Jerusalem is being discussed," Attias said. "The foreign minister doesn't deny it. [Prime Minister Ehud Olmert] has to decide whether he wants Shas in the government or whether he wants what [Foreign Minister Tzipi] Livni is doing." In Tuesday's Maariv a Shas official claimed that Livni was holding the covert talks with the Palestinians behind the prime minister's back in order to force Shas to quit the coalition and bring down the government. "Tzipi Livni is creating upheaval [around] Olmert and pushing Shas out [of the coalition], the source said. Yishai will meet Olmert when the prime minister returns from Germany and will try to find out whether Livni "is the conductor and is acting on her own volition or whether she is being directed from above", Attias told Army Radio. "We cannot disregard what is happening. We cannot bury our heads in the sand." On Monday, Yishai indicated that his party's days in the government were numbered, due to the Post's story. Yishai told reporters who attended his faction's weekly meeting that he would speak about the story in Sunday's paper with Olmert and Livni. He had not spoken to either one by press time and the Olmert associates he did reach downplayed the report. "I will check the story and if it's true, Shas will leave the government," Yishai told the Post. Yishai also issued a new threat that any diplomatic progress on any issue while Kassams fall on Sderot could lead to the party's departure from the coalition. Yishai escalated his warning beyond previous threats, which focused solely on Jerusalem. But Yishai's threat to leave over the Post story was seen as more serious, because it applied to negotiations that have already taken place, while the new threat deals with potential future talks. Yishai wrote a letter to Cabinet Secretary Ovad Yehezkel requesting that all decisions about what Israel should negotiate be made in the forum of seven ministers that met regularly during the Second Lebanon War. He postponed a visit to Jerusalem's controversial Har Homa neighborhood until Thursday, when he will be joined by MKs from the right wing National Union-National Religious Party. Sources in Shas said the Post story added to what they said was already tremendous pressure on the party to leave the coalition sooner rather than later. A Shas MK complained privately that he felt increasingly uncomfortable with the party remaining in a government that was conducting negotiations that he believed would leave Israel "naked" without key strategic assets. An official close to Olmert expressed confidence that Shas would remain in the coalition. The official vowed to do everything possible to keep the party satisfied. "If Shas wants to have an influence and prevent moves it opposes, it needs to remain in the government," the official said. "Leaving would have no value, because Shas cannot accomplish anything in the opposition." Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday criticized Yishai for questioning the report's veracity. He called on Shas to leave the coalition due to the report and the security situation. "Olmert's government is acting with weakness and confusion," Netanyahu said. "It's allowing rockets to fall on Sderot while they engage in negotiations that will result in more rockets falling in Jerusalem and the center of the country. I call on our friends in Shas: You share our opinions, our concern for Jerusalem, our concerns for security - I call on you to do the right thing. And the right thing is to stop these dangerous moves and quit the government." Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman and United Torah Judaism chairman Ya'acov Litzman mocked Yishai, saying that he would leave the coalition after Kadima. Yishai responded that their criticism did not matter to him. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who is Olmert's most serious foe on the Right within Kadima, is waiting for developments in Shas before making a decision about whether to use the talks on Jerusalem to attack Olmert. Jerusalem mayor Uri Lupoliansky declined to comment on the negotiations about the city's fate. His spokesman said he would not comment unless Livni verified the report.