PM: We are ready for arbitration on university strike

Olmert tells Knesset gov't "won't be dictated to;" says he's prepared for serious negotiations; professors to increase protest gestures.

olmert knesset 224.88 (photo credit: Knesset Channel)
olmert knesset 224.88
(photo credit: Knesset Channel)
This government does not succumb to dictates or ultimatums, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Knesset on Wednesday. And threats to cancel the university semester are unacceptable, he added. Olmert was addressing the plenum after more than 40 MKs signed a demand that he appear before them to explain his refusal to intervene in the recent strikes in the education system. Olmert angrily denied that he should become directly involved in the negotiations, saying a prime minister could not be expected to "hold negotiations day and night." He said he was updated "three times a day, every day," adding that "when there was a need to give instructions, they were given." Olmert said he would not stand for the university lecturers' conduct or ultimatums. "There is a pattern of exaggeration [in the lecturers' demands] that is unacceptable to me," the prime minister said. "[It is] a government's job to say at certain points that there are some things that pressure won't achieve." The government had taken many steps to help bring the senior lecturers' strike to an end, he said. "We offered the lecturers arbitration. We even offered to choose a professor who is a member of the academic community to act as arbitrator [to decide on the issue of salary erosion]. They refused," Olmert said. "Even now I say to the lecturers: I am prepared to go to arbitration. We will agree to any reasonable choice for arbitrator." Olmert said "the attempt to use the [threat of canceling the] semester to force the government into concessions has failed. The government will not be dictated to. We are prepared to hold serious negotiations to end the strike at any time." Meanwhile, the leadership of the Senior Lecturers Union was meeting with representatives of the Treasury and the university professors. At midday, after several hours of negotiations, a spokesman for the union said they "were not optimistic." The talks recessed briefly and resumed at night. The union also sent a message Wednesday night that the professors would light 10 torches outside Olmert's residence on Thursday night to mark the 10 days left until the the semester would have to be canceled. Earlier in the day, 2005 Nobel laureate Prof. Robert Aumann of the Hebrew University lashed out at the Finance Ministry. "The Treasury's authority must be taken away. Why should the Treasury decide [how university's dispense their budgets]? The Finance Ministry should distribute a lump sum to each university and leave it up to them to decide how to allocate it," he said. Aumann, who was speaking at a joint student-lecturer rally in front of the National Labor Court in Jerusalem, reiterated that the ministry and the government in general did not have the expertise to run universities. Throughout the afternoon, professors held open air lectures down the street from the court while the sides negotiated within. About 30 people, few of whom appeared to be university students, sat on plastic chairs to hear the lectures. Also Wednesday, the Education Ministry published the summer matriculation schedule and the topics to be covered by the exams. The ministry said that because of the recently resolved teachers' strike, the grades from the first mathematics and English tests would not be available by the date of the second opportunity to take the tests. The schedule and the topics can be found on the Education Ministry Web Site: