Olmert: Shas won't quit coalition

PM reportedly promises Yishai construction will continue in Jewish neighborhoods of east J'lem.

ovadia yosef looks down  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ovadia yosef looks down
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday that he did not believe Shas would quit the coalition over reports that Jerusalem was already on the table in talks with the Palestinians. "I see no danger to the integrity of the coalition," Olmert told political reporters in the Knesset. "It is clear to all of the sides that the issue of Jerusalem will be the last issue on the agenda with the Palestinians." Meanwhile, Army Radio reported that the prime minister promised Shas Chairman Eli Yishai that construction would continue in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. Olmert reportedly said that he would contact the authorities charged with planning and construction in the Housing Ministry and inform them of the decision in the upcoming days. Earlier Wednesday, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, the eldest son of Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, said that the party should quit the government forthwith and if it fails to do so, it bears responsibility for putting Israel in grave danger. In the statement, which was revealed on Army Radio and will be run in the Eretz Yisrael Shelanu (Israel is Ours) Shabbat leaflet over the weekend, Yosef also warns of missiles on Jerusalem. Shas, Yosef implies, cannot use the excuse that the negotiations are still far from fruition. "We [also] didn't believe it would happen so fast that Judea and Samaria would be on the negotiating table," he writes. "We can't let it happen. We have to struggle. We cannot give up." "I hope they wake up and leave as the Council of Torah Sages promised," Yosef says. "By remaining in the government, Shas is betraying the decision of the Council and putting the entire Jewish people in danger." In quitting the coalition, Yosef claims, Shas would also reap electoral benefit by garnering support from groups that traditionally vote for other, more staunchly right-wing parties. "If Shas leaves now it will help politically by winning support from traditional voters who are struggling against concessions on Jerusalem." "I say unequivocally: Shas will never forgive itself if it doesn't leave the government now. Every moment in this government is dangerous," Yosef says. Sources within Shas were quoted as saying that the statement by Yosef, who has already confronted his father in various political matters - as well as halachic issues - in the past, did not reflect in any way the views of the party or of its spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Meanwhile, Yishai was surprised to hear about the frequency of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's negotiations with former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, Shas sources said Tuesday. Yishai had been promised that he would be kept up to date on the talks with the Palestinians by Olmert and Livni, but he learned from Ma'ariv that Livni had met with Qurei on both Monday and Tuesday. Hearing about the meetings from the press reinforced for Shas officials that The Jerusalem Post's reports about secret negotiations on Jerusalem were correct. Yishai said on Monday that if the story were true, his party would leave the government. Shas officials said Yishai would meet with Olmert after the latter returned from his trip to Germany. Olmert told reporters in Berlin that Jerusalem and other sensitive subjects would be left until the end of talks, after agreements had been reached on other matters. Also Tuesday, Hatem Abdel Qader, the Jerusalem affairs adviser to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, confirmed that Jerusalem is one of the issues currently being discussed by Israeli and PA negotiators. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Abdel Qader said Jerusalem "is not only on the table, it's also under the table." Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.