Opposition parties pressure Shas to topple coalition

Likud and Israel Beiteinu to attack coalition over its stance on key security issues.

Olmert Yishai walk 224.8 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Olmert Yishai walk 224.8
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Israel Beiteinu and Likud Party lawmakers joined together on Monday to attack Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition over its stance on key security issues. Officials from Israel Beiteinu and Likud said they planned to pressure Shas over its position in the government, and encourage rebel Kadima MKs to vote against their own party, by highlighting the difference between Olmert's diplomatic initiatives and those of the right-wing bloc. "Now that some time has passed [since Israel Beiteinu's] departure from the coalition, it is easier for our parties to team up and apply pressure together," said a senior Israel Beiteinu MK. "Shas already knows that it doesn't belong in a coalition with Olmert. They belong in a coalition with us - with parties that are not willing to give up Jerusalem." Shas has repeatedly pegged its ongoing participation in the coalition to Olmert's promise not to raise the issue of Jerusalem in peace talks with the Palestinians, or consider ceding parts of Jerusalem as part of the post-Annapolis negotiation process. Shas chairman Eli Yishai repeated his stance Monday, during a speech to a number of American Jewish organizations in the Conference of Presidents. "I am constantly being asked about Shas taking an action and leaving the government. The decision will be taken by the Council of Torah Sages (Rabbinical Governing Board of Shas), which currently advises us not to do so," Yishai said. "But if negotiations on Jerusalem continue, Shas will immediately leave the government." Speaking at the same event, Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu slammed the ongoing peace talks, calling them a "virtual peace that the government is advancing to convince itself and no one else." Earlier in the day, Likud faction whip Gideon Sa'ar met with Yishai and Shas's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Sa'ar pressed the two over their commitment to the coalition. "Several key players in Shas want to leave the government. Their own party members are pressing them to leave," said one Likud official who took part in the meeting. "They know that they cannot continue to defend Olmert's diplomacy to their own supporters much longer." Israel Beiteinu and Likud both filed no-confidence motions against the government Monday over its diplomatic platform and peace talks with the Palestinians. Defending the coalition, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that if Israel were to halt talks with the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, it would only play into the Hamas' hands. "If there are no talks, will terror stop?" Livni said in the plenum. "If negotiations are halted, this will leave the playing field entirely in Hamas' hands… I don't walk into the negotiating room like a Santa Claus bearing gifts for the Palestinians. I represent Israel's interests." Livni added that the government was "trying to create a better future for the children of Sderot and the children of Israel." Earlier, in the Kadima Faction meeting, Olmert told Kadima and Gil Party MKs that Israel would continue to advance peace with Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, while fighting the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip. Hamas is responsible for everything taking place in Gaza, said Olmert. "As far as we are concerned, it is irrelevant whether Hamas members are involved in every single incident. What matters is that they bear responsibility and they will be responsible for the results of every activity taking place there," said Olmert. "We continue to impose sanctions which could harm the population's needs in a controlled manner, so as not to create a humanitarian crisis, but definitely in order to make it clear that the routine life is not disrupted only on one side." Yishai delivered a similar message to his own party, telling them that the IDF was imposing sanctions and taking down infrastructure in the Gaza Strip in order to stop attacks on Israel's southern communities. Yishai emphasized that along with the military response, the government should continue its efforts to achieve peace through the diplomatic process. "The current situation affects the diplomatic efforts to achieve an agreement between the two sides. We hope to achieve a true peace agreement, but we would be naïve to think an agreement on paper is a real one. In my recent discussions with President George W. Bush, I advised him that both sides do want peace, but need to act by reducing terror," said Yishai.