Olmert faces opposition to Lieberman

Peres and Livni express discontent with Israel Beiteinu joining the coalition.

ehud olmert 88 (photo credit: )
ehud olmert 88
(photo credit: )
Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will face opposition from his top allies in Kadima, law enforcement officials and other coalition partners if he decides to appoint Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman internal security minister. Olmert told Kadima ministers on Tuesday that he wanted to give Lieberman the portfolio if Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz would permit it. He said that if Lieberman is not permitted to take the portfolio, he would not give it to another MK from Israel Beiteinu, because the portfolio required ministerial experience. Several top Kadima officials oppose giving Lieberman the portfolio. Kadima's Nos. 2 and 3 candidates, Shimon Peres and Tzipi Livni, have both expressed opposition to Israel Beiteinu joining the coalition. As justice minister, Livni will have some say about whether Lieberman can be in charge of the police while he is still under investigation for illegal business dealings in Russia and for illegal fund-raising for his party's 1999 campaign. Tzahi Hanegbi was forced to leave the Internal Security Ministry when the police started investigating him. Lieberman received an unlikely endorsement on Thursday night from one of Kadima's most left-wing senior officials, former minister Dalia Itzik. She said that by including Israel Beiteinu in the coalition, Olmert will give his government backing from the Right while making the opposition less homogeneous. "It is important that Lieberman be in the cabinet because we don't want the government to be too leftist and we want the Right to be a part of the big decisions that will have to be made about the future," Itzik told The Jerusalem Post. "He is pragmatic, he understands the current reality and his word is his word. But most importantly, if he is in the government, the opposition will be divided." A senior Kadima official said the party believed Lieberman could be a more reliable coalition partner than Labor chairman Amir Peretz, who opposed disengagement from the Gaza Strip and who could decide to paralyze the government over a minor socioeconomic issue. They said that including Israel Beiteinu in an 84-MK coalition would prevent Peretz from being able to topple the government by removing his 19-MK faction. Olmert called Peretz on Wednesday to wish him a happy holiday. The two decided to tell their coalition negotiating teams to expedite the talks. Progress was reported in Wednesday talks between Kadima's Yoram Turbowitz and Yisrael Maimon and Labor's David Liba'i and Rahel Turjeman. In a pre-Pessah toast for the United Kibbutz Movement, Peretz said that he intended to fight for the Finance portfolio and that he does not believe the Defense portfolio is preferable. He instructed Liba'i to insist on the portfolio and on an NIS 500 raise in the minimum wage beginning in September. Kadima has not agreed to a minimum wage hike before 2007. Peretz also continues to oppose adding Israel Beiteinu to the coalition. "I don't understand why Peretz says he doesn't want Lieberman, when he tried to form a government with him," a senior Kadima official said. "Peretz apparently hasn't woken up from his dream of winning 28 mandates. He won 70,000 votes less than [Labor's 2003 candidate] Amram Mitzna, who was up against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Shinui. He has no right to disqualify anyone." Lieberman's spokeswoman responded that Olmert told Lieberman he was wanted in the government and "the rest is just speculation." After a break for the holiday and the weekend, Kadima and Labor officials will return to the negotiating table for more coalition talks on Sunday.