Israel Beiteinu, Shas not leaving coalition

When Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak left for the Annapolis summit on Saturday night, the heads of Israel Beiteinu and Shas remained in their cabinet seats in Jerusalem. Sources close to Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman and Shas chairman Eli Yishai made clear on Sunday that they do not intend to leave the government any time soon, despite the summit and the negotiations that will take place in its aftermath. "Making declarations now about how long he will remain in the government would not be very smart," a Lieberman adviser said. "He is waiting at least several weeks to see how serious the negotiations will be before making a decision about his political future." Lieberman told confidants over the weekend that leaving the government at this stage would not accomplish anything, because Shas would remain in the coalition and the government would still have a majority. He mocked Shas's threats to bolt the coalition, saying that Yishai's party would remain in the government "even after Kadima." Yishai's associates were angered by Lieberman's charges. They accused Lieberman of "chutzpah" and of making statements that he would later regret. "We don't see Lieberman's departure from the government on the horizon," a source close to Yishai said. "I am ready to bet that when Lieberman leaves, we will leave, but it won't be any time soon." Shas officials said that the party's guidelines for when to leave the government were set by the party's mentor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, according to the Torah, and [unlike Israel Beiteinu] "not based on the mood in the newspapers." They said they would not coordinate how long they remain in the government with Israel Beiteinu and that they were not afraid to be the only right-wing party in the coalition as they were when the current government was formed. Yishai and Yosef have endured months of pressure from the Right to leave the government. Right-wing activists plastered posters of Yishai in a keffiyeh near his Jerusalem home. Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu has visited Yosef to urge him to remove Shas from the coalition. In an effort to balance out the pressure, Minister-without-Portfolio Ami Ayalon of Labor visited Yosef on Sunday and tried to persuade him to keep Shas in the government even if Israel Beiteinu leaves. Ayalon told the rabbi that releasing Palestinian prisoners was necessary to strengthen Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and that the diplomatic process gave Israel legitimacy to strike in the Gaza Strip. "I told him that if the process fails, the Middle East would deteriorate into terror and violence from Hamas and eventually al-Qaida," Ayalon told Israel Radio. "The rabbi has a lot of influence on Israeli politics, so I wanted him to know that." Meanwhile, on the Right, former IDF chief of general staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya'alon said that Israeli governments have not learned anything from their failures in the 14 years since the Oslo diplomatic process began. He accused Olmert of going to Annapolis in order to distract the public from the investigations against him. "Politicians have learned that if they make diplomatic moves like disengagement, realignment or surrender, the Israeli public discourse changes and the press will bless them," Ya'alon told Army Radio. "I have a strong suspicion that this is the case right now."