Conflict in Cabinet Worsens as Peace Summit Approaches

Rumblings inside the government are getting louder as the Annapolis peace summit approaches: Coalition members Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas reiterated this weekend their inclination to leave the government if "core issues" are discussed at the conference.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will leave for Paris and London and will hold talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the first such meetings since the two took office this summer.

Olmert is trying to rally both leaders toward greater efforts to block Iran's quest for nuclear weapons, and will also discuss with them the upcoming summit at Annapolis.

In Paris, Olmert is expected to find a friend in Sarkozy, who has already expressed his support for broader sanctions against Iran. A political source in Jerusalem said the French president also seeks to lower expectations about the results of the Annapolis summit.

Brown, who supports an economic approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is expected to discuss joint economic projects that will involve the rival parties and Britain. The two will also discuss the Iranian nuclear issue, in anticipation of discussions at the United Nations Security Council on broadening economic sanctions against Tehran.

However, while Olmert is trying to step up international efforts to counter the Iranian threat, his coalition government may become increasingly unstable unless Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman is convinced that core issues - refugees, Jerusalem, borders - will not be discussed at Annapolis.

In an interview on Channel 2 yesterday, Lieberman said that if these issues are discussed, "this government will not be able to continue. This is my view and it is the view of [Shas Chairman] Eli Yishai. We will not be able to be part of this government if the Annapolis summit deals with core issues."

Lieberman expressed similar views during his meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week.

Shas, the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox party in the coalition, has also expressed concern over the core issues. Its chairman, Minister of Industry and Trade Eli Yishai, has repeatedly said that the party opposes any discussion of these issues at Annapolis. Yishai has said that any discussion or declaration relating to them will require his party's approval.

Yishai, who is currently on a visit to the United States, told Haaretz last week that any mention of Jerusalem in a document to be signed at the Annapolis summit will cause Shas to leave the coalition. "This may result in the breakup of the government, and it will depend on whether Lieberman also decides to quit," Yishai said.