Labor: Kadima's Conduct Before Talks Undermining Trust

With the first round of coalition talks set to begin tomorrow, senior Labor Party members complained yesterday that Kadima's conduct was undermining trust built up through secret meetings between Prime Minister-Designate Ehud Olmert and Labor Party chair Amir Peretz.

Even after the understandings reached in those meetings, Kadima is continuing to play games - employing spin and other parties to drive down Labor's price, they said.

Labor secretary general Eitan Cabel said yesterday that Kadima should not take the party for granted.

"If we can't reach an agreement on the guidelines, we won't sit in the government," Cabel said.

Labor also indicated it would not compromise on the education portfolio, which it wants for Yuli Tamir, and said that Kadima's statements belittling Tamir have soured negotiations in advance.

Although Labor widely believes it will be in the coalition, all parties concerned realize that negotiations will be lengthy and crisis-ridden, due not in small part to Labor's demands for social legislation. According to senior sources, Peretz has no intention of accepting the defense portfolio as a done deal and there will be a fight over the finance portfolio.

With all this suspicion, the real negotiations will apparently bypass the official track. Today the negotiating teams will meet for a preliminary discussion at Kfar Hamaccabiah Hotel.

Labor's team is headed by former minister Prof. David Libai, and includes former MK Hagai Merom; Peretz's confidante from the Histadrut, Rachel Turjeman; businessman Benny Gaon; and attorney Yossi Katz.

Kadima's team is headed by attorney Yoram Turbowicz, who is tipped to be Olmert's chief of staff; Cabinet Secretary Yisrael Maimon; Olmert's adviser Oved Yehezkel; and strategist Eyal Arad.

Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, meanwhile, is exuding confidence that his party will be in the next government. In an interview yesterday on Channel 2 television, he insisted he will get the public security portfolio. Lieberman did not rule out joining the government even if agreeing to a unilateral withdrawal is included in the coalition guidelines.

"I'm pragmatic right, not fanatic right," he said.

However, in another interview yesterday with the Russian-language television channel RTVA, Lieberman cited three conditions for joining the government: passing a civil marriage law within three months; the public security portfolio; and ruling out the planned unilateral withdrawal, and replacing it with setting permanent borders recognized by the international community.

Teams from Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and Likud will also meet with Kadima today.

Likud will hold a faction meeting this morning to establish guidelines for the first meeting with Kadima at noon. The internal strife in the Likud is also dogging discussion on joining the government. Olmert associates are talking via secret channels to Likud MKs, effectively bypassing Likud chair Benjamin Netanyahu.

Tomorrow, Kadima will hold a second round of talks with the Pensioners Party, United Torah Judaism and Meretz.

Under the agreement Peretz reached with Olmert, Kadima will not sign any coalition agreement before signing one with Labor.