Shas upgrades coalition threat on J'lem

Party's No. 2: "Creating an atmosphere" that hints to capital's division reason enough to leave gov't.

yitzhak cohen 298 88 (photo credit: The Knesset)
yitzhak cohen 298 88
(photo credit: The Knesset)
Shas upped its threat to leave Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government over the Jerusalem issue on Tuesday at a conference on the capital's future held at Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in memory of the late Yisrael B'Aliya MK Tzvi Weinberg. The chairman of Shas - Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai - canceled his participation in the event at the last minute and sent the No. 2 man on the Shas list, Religious Services Minister Yitzhak Cohen, to deliver his address. Initially, Shas threatened to leave the government if it made a deal on Jerusalem with the Palestinians. It later upgraded the threat to rule out negotiations on the capital, and then said that debating the issue on the Israeli side was already enough of a reason to quit the coalition. Cohen raised the bar on Tuesday when he said that even "creating an atmosphere" that could lead to Jerusalem's division was a red line for the party. "Shas won't sit in a government that creates an atmosphere that allows a debate on Jerusalem's fate," Cohen said. "We will not lend a hand to abandoning our borders. We also won't be partners to opening the gates on borders and refugees. We won't be part of such a government." Cohen lamented that Israelis had developed a new sport - racing to make concessions to the Palestinians. He was heckled by the crowd when he said that he accepted Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's promises that Shas would be informed if Jerusalem was raised in the talks between Livni and Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei. "Shas opposes every initiative that involves concessions on Jerusalem," Cohen said. "The moment the Jerusalem issue is raised in diplomatic negotiations, Shas will leave the government." Cohen said right-wing governments had made more concessions to the Palestinians than the Left. Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu defended himself at the event, explaining how his policies prevented more significant withdrawals in the West Bank than those he implemented as prime minister. Olmert's government had placed Jerusalem on the operating table and was making little effort to hide it, which proved the government's "feebleness, its abandonment of values and its moral and historic bankruptcy," Netanyahu said. "There is a phrase, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it,'" Netanyahu said. "I say if it ain't broke, don't break it. They say [concessions in Jerusalem] are necessary to end the conflict. But not only would a deal with the Palestinians on Jerusalem not end the conflict, it would open the door to a global war of religions over Jerusalem, because Iran will take over any areas Israel leaves." Netanyahu said that if elected, his government would be strong enough to stop Olmert's diplomatic process. He did not see a situation where there would be an agreement with the Palestinians without an election or a referendum. "The public will have to decide whether there is a partner on the Palestinian side," Netanyahu said. Former minister for Jerusalem Affairs Natan Sharansky spoke at the event and told a story about how then-prime minister Ehud Barak lied to him about negotiations on dividing Jerusalem that were taking place when Sharansky served in his cabinet. He said he told Barak that when he used sources around the world to find out about the negotiations, he was doing what he was falsely accused of doing when the Soviets jailed him for espionage. "I want my friends in Shas to remember that as long as we stay loyal to Jerusalem we will be strong," Sharansky said. "When we play with this, we demonstrate weakness to the entire world."