Ovadia Yosef Daniel Bar-On 19.6.2010
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef delivering his weekly sermon, June 19, 2010. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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The office of Shas chairman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai issued a statement on Sunday night that said Yishai had been instructed by Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to "strongly oppose any form of a settlement freeze extension."

That statement appears to signal divisions within the ultra-Orthodox Shas party on the settlement freeze issue. Earlier on Sunday, Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Attias was quoted on Channel 10 as saying that Shas would not stand in the way if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to extend the recently-expired freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank.

It is not clear at this point which of the statements represents Shas' position on the matter.

Attias has expressed in various forums in recent weeks that Shas would not oppose a settlement freeze extension, on the condition that it be the final freeze and be limited to two months in length.

Likud officials believe that the basis of these statements by Attias could be used as the language for a vote by the cabinet on extending the settlement freeze, if Netanyahu decides to bring such a proposal to the cabinet.

It is believed that Attias would either support or be absent from a vote on extending the settlement freeze. In last year's vote on declaring the settlement freeze, Attias and Shas chairman Eli Yishai were absent from the vote, which enabled it to be passed.

Attias and Yishai are members of the political-security cabinet. Attias is considered to be less rightist politically than Yishai. Yishai is one of the strongest opponents of extending the settlement freeze.

Channel 10 reported on Saturday that, according to Shas officials, Yosef supports a settlement freeze extension that includes the same conditions enunciated by Attias. The Shas sources said that Yosef does not want a serious crisis to occur between Israel and the United States. Associates of Yishai, however, said that Yosef opposes any form of a settlement freeze extension.