Shas claims credit for Givat Ze'ev plan

Officials: PM accepted Yishai request after he promised not to leave gov't over secret J'lem talks.

yishai looks up 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
yishai looks up 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Shas officials claimed credit for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's decision on Sunday to approve the construction of a new haredi neighborhood in the Jerusalem suburb of Givat Ze'ev, which is located in the West Bank. They said Olmert had accepted a request that Shas chairman Eli Yishai had made two weeks ago to restart building in the communities around Jerusalem, after Yishai gave up his threat to leave the government over secret negotiations about Jerusalem's future that were revealed in The Jerusalem Post. A Kadima official said Olmert had waited for the right time to announce the decision, and the shooting at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva had provided the right opportunity. Yishai demanded that Olmert respond to the attack by passing a bill that would rescind the residency status of terrorists and their families. He also said the government should pay for security guards at schools - something it did not do at the height of the Palestinian wave of violence six years ago. The decision added to a long list of political victories for Shas in recent weeks, including the recreation of the Religious Affairs Ministry, the empowering of rabbinical courts, the distribution of NIS 450 million to yeshivas, the passage of a bill enabling municipalities to transfer funding to Shas schools and the passage of a bill in its first reading that would require Internet companies to filter out pornography. Shas and Olmert also agreed on a proposal to give the authority over conversions to Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who is a relative of Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. However, that move was blocked by Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander. Labor has tried to block some of the gestures made to Shas, and it is expected to do the same later this week, when Olmert is expected to announce at a meeting of the ministerial committee of socioeconomic issues that Yishai will chair a new committee on increasing government stipends to large families. Yishai issued an ultimatum to leave the government over its failure to increase child welfare stipends after the February 14 release of the National Insurance Institute's annual report on poverty. Yishai said he would insist on a significant raise in the stipends, which he said could be made in stages. Shas is also demanding the chairmanship of the Knesset Finance Committee or the House Committee if current chairman David Tal (Kadima) is promoted to the Finance Committee. Labor chairman Ehud Barak is expected to challenge Olmert over his concessions to Shas in a meeting of Labor's executive committee on Wednesday night. Peace Now chairman Yariv Oppenheimer joined Labor officials in criticizing the decision to build the new neighborhood in Givat Ze'ev. Oppenheimer warned that building in the West Bank would "assassinate the peace process." Meretz leadership candidate Haim Oron also blasted the move, saying it contradicted Olmert's repeated reassurances to the Palestinians that Israel would not build in the settlements. Oron, who is close with Olmert, issued a surprisingly critical statement calling Olmert's promises "hot air." Ahead of the March 18 Meretz primary, Oron hosted top Meretz activists at a rally in Tel Aviv. Speakers at the event included outgoing Meretz leader Yossi Beilin, former chair Shulamit Aloni and author Amos Oz. Oz expressed confidence that the Left could win the next election, but he blasted Barak, who he said did not consider peace a priority and was unfamiliar with poverty. Oz also called upon the government to reach a cease-fire agreement with Hamas. Oron, meanwhile, revealed that he had met on Thursday with convicted Palestinian mass murderer Marwan Barghouti, who told him that it was possible for Israel and the Palestinians to reach a final-status agreement along the lines of the Geneva Initiative. In her speech, Aloni blasted the government, saying that it was dominated by Shas.