Despite Shas Threats, Bar On Says Won't Increase Child Welfare Payments

Bar-On responds to Eli Yishai's announcement that Shas would leave government if party demands not met.

Finance Minister Roni Bar On said on Monday that there would be no increase in child welfare payments, despite Shas chairman Eli Yishai's threat that his party would leave the government if the stipends were not raised.

"We will not agree to a withdrawal from our successful economic statesmanship that has proven itself over the years," said Bar On.

In a sub-committee meeting on the issue of the payments, Yishai warned Bar On that this time, Shas meant business and that if his party demands were not met, Shas would follow the instructions of Shas' Council of Torah Sages.

In a telephone survey of the Council of Torah Sages, the Rabbis decided that "if a solution is not found for Shas' demands to raise the child welfare stipends, Shas will support a law to dissolve the Knesset."

"NIS 260 Million remains in Shas' coalition agreement, and this money should be utilized for the implementation of positive measures that would decrease poverty and increase household incomes, especially concerning children," said Bar On in response.

Political insiders say Shas is getting ready to jump ship on the assumption that the government's days are numbered, and it is using the social agenda as its excuse.

Shas has rejected Olmert's offer to appoint a Shas man as deputy housing minister in exchange for support on the appointments. Shas ministers told Olmert they would not be appeased with appointments and would reject the offers even if offered another ministerial post.

Shas sources said they were Olmert's most loyal partners and did not complain even when Olmert gave labor the deputy defense minister's post and appointed Majali Wahabi of Kadima as deputy foreign minister to solve internal coalition problems, despite prior agreements with Shas.

"It's not that we're taking advantage of Olmert's weakness because of the investigations. It's a mater of principle," a Shas source said Monday.

"We won't let them give us the runaround. We want a yes or no answer," said the source.

Shas intends to emphasize social causes in the next election campaign and needs to distinguish itself from Labor on these issues, a Shas source said. Shas will say in its campaign that Labor prefers to "feed opportunist politicians rather than hungry children," the source said.