PM resists calls for coalition changes

Kadima MKs start seeking support for 2007 state budget from the Likud.

olmert worried 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
olmert worried 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has rejected ideas about making major changes in his government, preferring to keep his current coalition intact, Kadima officials who spoke to Olmert said Sunday. Olmert has had meetings recently with his associates who have advised him to shake up his government, replace Defense Minister Amir Peretz with former prime minister Ehud Barak and add the Likud and Israel Beiteinu to the coalition. But Kadima officials said Olmert had decided it was too soon to make such moves. "No changes are needed because the coalition is stable and it is barely four months old," said a Kadima official with whom Olmert consulted. "The MKs know that if they spur elections now, 100 of them will lose their jobs. There are enough MKs who have not had an opportunity to make a name for themselves yet, so they might be calling for elections, but it's a far cry from raising their hands in favor of losing their jobs." In an effort to remove what could be the biggest obstacle to keeping the coalition together, Kadima MKs have already started seeking support for the 2007 state budget from the Likud. The effort is intended to compensate for the increasing unreliability of the Labor Party. Likud MK Reuven Rivlin, who is on the Knesset Finance Committee, said that Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu had given him approval to vote for the budget when it comes to the committee in upcoming weeks. According to an agreement being worked out between Kadima and the Likud, the deficit would be increased from 2 percent to 2.8%, which would allow the financing of military expenditures without further slashing from social welfare programs. Ironically, the suggestion to increase the deficit originated with Avishay Braverman, one of the leading Labor rebels who has shaken Labor's partnership in the coalition. "Bibi [Netanyahu] is thinking about the next elections," a Likud MK said. "He knows he lost this one because of the complaints that he harmed the poor working class. This is a way to atone for that with a direct socioeconomic contribution that he could point to." While one Kadima MK said he hoped cooperation with the Likud could lead to the party replacing Labor in the coalition, top Likud MKs said they intended to topple the government and not join it. They labeled Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik's efforts at forming a national emergency government "a joke." "In a proper governmental system, the Knesset speaker does not form a government," said Netanyahu, who spoke to Olmert on Sunday but did not discuss politics. "I am not dealing with fixing the coalition's problems. My job is to build an alternative that can save the country from its security, diplomatic and socioeconomic problems." Itzik sent letters to the Likud, Israel Beiteinu, National Union-National Religious, United Torah Judaism, and Meretz faction chairmen urging them to join a national emergency government. Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman responded that there was no reason to join a government that had failed. He predicted that there would be an election in the spring. UTJ is also playing hard to get. Faction chairman Ya'acov Litzman said in an interview with the Haredi weekly Mishpaha that the problems in the coalition have raised UTJ's asking price. He told the paper that "mounting an ailing horse would cost more than mounting a healthy horse." In a further setback for the coalition, Pensioners Party leader Rafi Eitan said Sunday that if a Pensioners Ministry is not approved in Wednesday's cabinet meeting, the seven Pensioners MKs would break away from the Kadima faction as a first step toward leaving the coalition. Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson promised to fund the ministry 10 days ago, but Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander wrote to Eitan on Friday to say that the ministry was unnecessary. "We are fed up with all the promises and we are not going to take it anymore," a Pensioners spokeswoman said.