The emerging Ehud Olmert government, with Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu faction, "will crumble the moment the convergence begins," a senior Labor Party official warned yesterday.
The warning comes despite a statement by Labor head Amir Peretz that the government could last four years. Peretz said this at a press conference with Olmert on Tuesday.
According to the Labor official, the moment the large evacuation from the West Bank begins, Lieberman will resign and drag Shas and United Torah Judaism in his wake.
The Labor official says that Olmert is making a mistake by wanting to include Yisrael Beiteinu in the government because Lieberman is "an unstable partner who cannot be relied upon." According to the Laborite, Olmert has a better option on hand - to form a government comprising Kadima, Labor, the Pensioners Party and Meretz (60 seats), and then add Shas and UTJ for a total of 78 seats.
By going for this option, the Labor official said, Olmert will have a strong nucleus of 60 seats - half the Knesset - in favor of the acting prime minister's convergence plan and committed to its implementation. Even if Shas and UTJ resign over convergence, the 10 Arab MKs would not allow the government to fall and it would be able to press on with its plan.
"Olmert is acting foolishly," the Labor official said. "In order to bring Lieberman in, he is blurring the [government] guidelines and not mentioning the convergence at all. ... If he sets up a government with Labor, Meretz and the Pensioners Party, he'll be able to formulate clear and sharp guidelines, and Shas and UTJ would have to join on that basis. Then it would be more difficult for them to resign at the moment of truth."
Meretz-Yachad officials agree with the Labor member. A senior Meretz-Yachad source said last night that the party "will not neutralize itself for an entire year" while waiting for the designated prime minister's withdrawal plan.
"They shouldn't rely on us to join the government hastily and rescue it if Olmert runs into problems with Lieberman," the source said. "We will support his political initiative, but we will vote against every other issue."
Olmert is expected to become the official prime minister-designate today after President Moshe Katsav gave him a mandate to form a government.
Olmert is expected to get the nod from 73 incoming MKs. He has already received the support of Kadima, Labor, Shas and the Pensioners Party; UTJ will be meeting today with Katsav, and its members are also expected to recommend Olmert for the role of prime minister.
For their part, the right-wing and Arab parties informed the president that they have decided not to recommend any of the candidates for the post of prime minister.
Regarding the senior portfolio - finance or defense - that will be offered to Labor chairman Peretz, sources close to Olmert said last night that nothing had been decided yet. The solution, the sources said, will come at a more advanced stage of the coalition talks, after the government's guidelines have been ironed out and agreed upon.
Olmert associates added that in the end, the incoming prime minister will be the one who decides which portfolio to give Peretz. Olmert hopes the Labor leader will take the defense portfolio, the associates said.
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