Olmert looks to add to gov't coalition

Still sees UTJ, Israel Beiteinu, Meretz, as potential gov't members.

acting PM olmert 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
acting PM olmert 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
While the appointment of Kadima's ministers on Monday seemed to bring the coalition talks to an end, the party still sees United Torah Judaism, Israel Beiteinu and Meretz as potential members in the government. Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is still seeking to enlarge his coalition which is expected to include 67 MKs when presented to the Knesset on Thursday. Israel Beiteinu announced yesterday that it wasn't planning to join the government and that "Olmert decided in favor of the Left and against the Aliya from the former Soviet Union." On Sunday party leader Avigdor Lieberman had announced that he was still open to negotiating a deal after receiving a reassuring message from Olmert. However, the publishing of Kadima's list of ministers made it evident that there were no ministries left for Israel Beiteinu. Party No. 2, MK Yuri Stern, blamed internal problems in Kadima for the spurning of his party. "They managed to give everyone there a job, but the each ministry went to the worst possible candidate." Stern didn't rule out the possibility that Lieberman would contest Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu for the post of opposition chairman. Meanwhile, despite reports that with Israel Beiteinu out of the picture, Meretz would consider joining the coalition, Kadima negotiator Yoram Turbovich told Meretz's representative, MK Ran Cohen, that they were giving Israel Beiteinu a few more days and only after that would they enter talks with Meretz. Cohen said that "Olmert is making a huge mistake continuing to pursue Lieberman," but he admitted that Meretz still saw itself as a possible partner in the coalition. The party seen as closest to joining the coalition is UTJ, despite the fact that its talks with Kadima broke down on Sunday. The crisis is seen as temporary and mainly a ploy to prove that rival Shas gave in too easily on matters of principle for the religious community. The main bones of contention are the clauses in the coalition guidelines regarding legislation on civil marriage for couples who can't get married according to Halacha, and the setting up of special Rabbinical conversion courts. Shas resolved its objections with a special clause in its coalition agreement that said that any legislation would have to be agreed upon by all the members of the coalition. But UTJ MK Ya'acov Litzman said yesterday that "the fact that it's in the coalition guidelines is impossible for us." UTJ is also demanding higher children's benefit payments and blames Shas for making do only with the cancellation of future cuts in the benefits. Despite all these disputes and the breakdown of talks, both sides were confident that the difficulties would be overcome and that UTJ would eventually join the coalition. As a sign of that confidence, no minister was appointed to the Social Affairs ministry that has been promised to UTJ and is expected to be headed by MK Avraham Ravitz. Litzman will also continue to head the Knesset Finance Committee.