Minister Ayalon Appeals to Shas Leader to Remain in Coalition

Minister without portfolio told Ovadia Yosef he believes Lieberman will quit government after Annapolis.

During a meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday, Minister Without Portfolio Ami Ayalon appealed to Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to resist calls for the party to quit the government and to support "a diplomatic process that is essential to the existence of the state of Israel."

Ayalon met Yosef at the rabbi's residence in Jerusalem on Sunday. Shas chairman Eli Yishai was also present during the sit-down.

Ayalon communicated to Yosef his belief that Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party would quit the coalition following the Annapolis peace conference, a move that would endanger the Olmert government's ability to rule effectively.

As a result, Ayalon called on Shas to "show responsibility, stay in the government and support a diplomatic process that is essential to the existence of the State of Israel."

Ayalon also told the Shas leader that Lieberman's projected resignation does not necessarily mean that Shas should follow suit. The minister said he hoped the government's stability would remain intact after the Annapolis conference. Yosef mostly listened to Ayalon's statements, however did not respond when the minister inquired into Shas' plans following the summit.

Public pressure on Shas and Yisrael Beitenu to resign from the government is growing as the Annapolis summit gets underway this week. Rightist demonstrators are planning demonstrations in front of the homes and offices of Yishai and Lieberman, and the "Council of Rabbis of the Land of Israel" has urged Yosef to instruct Shas ministers to quit the coalition.

In addition, worshippers are expected to gather in the Western Wall plaza on Monday for a mass prayer against plans for territorial withdrawals. The service will be led by Israel's former chief rabbi and prominent religious Zionist leader Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu. On Monday afternoon, the Yesha Council of settlements will stage a protest near the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem.

Later in the week, members of the Bnei Akiva youth movement will line the walls of the Old City to demonstrate their opposition to any plans to relinquish parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinians.

The "One Jerusalem" rightist movement plans to hold a protest on the Armon Hanatziv promenade on Sunday.

Ya'alon: Olmert pursuing talks to escape corruption chargesFormer Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon said on Sunday that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is pursuing peace talks with the Palestinians in order to escape three concurrent corruption investigations.

Ya'alon headed the IDF during the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip, and on Sunday, echoed criticism of the media that was voiced then. In an interview Sunday with Army Radio, he blasted what he said was the media's fierce protectiveness over politicians pursuing steps to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, likening it to the guarding of the etrog, a citron fruit used during the Sukkot holiday, which requires ritual protection.

"I read several journalists, who are considered prominent, and there is serious damage there, which, in my opinion, causes politicians to understand that if they want to be made into an etrog, they will be excused of ethical matters and professional failure in order to pursue certain paths," Ya'alon told Army Radio.

Senior politicians said in response that "there is just one problem with this theory, not to mention paranoia. The prime minister presented before the elections and the investigations his daring and ambitious plan, the principle of which was to leave the [Palestinian] territories, and he was elected on this platform. All of the attempts to doubt the motives for the political process are destined to fail."

Olmert campaigned for prime minister in 2006 on his much-touted convergence plan to follow the Gaza disengagement by unilaterally withdrawing from West Bank settlements. The plan was since essentially discarded.