Lieberman: I won't cause a coalition crisis during visit

Israel Beiteinu will meet Monday and its secretariat Tuesday to decide whether to consider leaving the government.

Avigdor Lieberman 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Avigdor Lieberman 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The pressure on Shas and Israel Beiteinu to leave Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government reignited on Tuesday when Olmert announced that negotiations on the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would restart during US President George W. Bush's visit to Israel. Olmert made the announcement with great fanfare at a meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Shortly afterward, Olmert's associates rushed into damage control mode, issuing a statement downplaying what Olmert had said and adding that they did not expect Israel Beiteinu and Shas to quit the coalition. "There is no reason for them to leave, because nothing has really changed," an Olmert associate said. "There were talks on the core issues before, and there will continue to be talks on the core issues." Olmert's associates gave credit to Israel Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman for blocking a move to create subcommitees that would have dealt with the core issues: Jerusalem, refugees, and the final borders of a Palestinian state. The Likud and the National Union-National Religious Party called upon Shas and Israel Beiteinu to "honor their public commitments" and leave the government. The coalition decided to delay a Knesset vote that had been set for Tuesday on the formation of a Religious Affairs Ministry after it became clear that they lacked a majority. Israel Beiteinu and Labor MKs have joined the opposition in opposing the move. The Likud, meanwhile, announced that it would vote against the formation of the Religious Affairs Ministry, because "Shas sold out Jerusalem" to get the ministry. "Lieberman's decision about whether to stay will determine once and for all whether his word is his word or whether not a single would from him could be believed," NU-NRP chairman Benny Elon said. Israel Beiteinu responded by lashing out at its critics, saying they would not accept the scolding of "those who voted for the disengagement" (Likud) and "those who refused to leave the government after they were fired" (Elon). "I will request a clarification from the prime minister, but I understand that I won't get it until after the Bush visit, and I don't intend to cause a coalition crisis while he is here," Lieberman said. The Israel Beiteinu faction will meet Monday and its secretariat Tuesday to decide whether to consider leaving the government. Lieberman warned Olmert on Sunday that he would remove Israel Beiteinu from the coalition if negotiations began on the core issues of the conflict. "We decided on our red lines ahead of Annapolis," Lieberman told Israel Radio. "One of them was that if there were negotiations on the core issues of the conflict, it would require us to leave the government immediately and we intend to stand by that commitment. I said this to the prime minister and our party's view is clear." Israel Beiteinu sources said at the time that it was important to Lieberman to send Olmert a warning before Bush's visit that the prime minister could not take Israel Beitenu's presence in the coalition for granted ahead of the release of the Winograd Report. Shas officials, meanwhile, said that Olmert's announcement would have no impact on them, because they had never threatened to quit the government over talks with the Palestinians. They stressed that they had only threatened to quit if an agreement were reached with the Palestinians.