Lieberman may pull party from gov't

Israel Beiteinu chairman: No negotiations over core issues; criticizes calls for Barghouti release.

lieberman new 248 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
lieberman new 248 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
If negotiations with the Palestinians touch on Israel's thorny 'core issues' it would constitute sufficient grounds for Israel Beiteinu to leave the coalition, Strategic Affairs Minister and the party's chairman Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio Sunday. While Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima-led coalition could stand without Israel Beiteinu - Kadima, Labor and Shas alone hold more than 60 Knesset seats - losing the eleven seats held by Lieberman's right-wing party would be a significant blow to the government. Lieberman stressed that his party was not looking for reasons to leave the coalition, but was also not "seizing the horns of the altar." When asked if Israel Beiteinu was coordinating its position with Shas, Lieberman said: "Israel Beiteinu has a clear stance: No negotiations regarding the core issues." Lieberman also criticized Israeli officials who called for the release of Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti from jail in exchange for captured IDF Cpl. Gilad Schalit, who has been held in Gaza for over 19 months. He said that Barghouti, if released, would not fight against Hamas but become its ally. Labor MK Binyamin Ben Eliezer told Army Radio he would demand that Barghouti be considered because, he said, "Barghouti is someone you can sit and talk to." Barghouti is serving a prison sentence for his involvement in planning and directing terror attacks which killed Israeli citizens. Israel perceives Barghouti as a leader admired by most Palestinians and a charismatic man who might have real influence over the Palestinian street. According to Ben-Eliezer, another leader opposed to releasing Barghouti is Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who fears that such a release as part of an exchange deal for Gilad Schalit would be seen by the Palestinians as a Hamas victory, and thus weaken Abbas's sway. Meanwhile, Army Radio reported that the Prime Minister's Office denied reports Sunday that Ofer Dekel, Olmert's hand-picked in-charge for negotiations regarding captive soldiers, met with Barghouti in Hadarim prison. The office also said that releasing Barghouti as part of a future exchange deal was not on the table. In other news, Lieberman was asked about his position regarding an initiative to reestablish the Religious Affairs Ministry, floated recently by the PMO. Later Sunday, Lieberman voted against the initiative. Lieberman added that Israel needs to decide whether it wanted Judaism which was "friendly and inviting, or anachronistic and repulsive."