Netanyahu Asks Shas to Back Bid for Early General Elections

Shas spiritual leader says set to convene council of Torah sages to formulate party's official stance.

Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday met with the spiritual leader of the Shas Party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, to ask for his support in bringing about early general elections.

In response, the rabbi said that he intends to convene the party's council of Torah sages in order to formulate Shas' position.

In a meeting held at Yosef's home in Jerusalem, attended by Likud MKs Silvan Shalom and Gideon Sa'ar, Shas Chairman Eli Yishai announced that his party will "continue to examine and consider the options and alternatives to determine what will be best for the citizens of the state of Israel." Yishai added that the party's position will become clear by the end of the Jewish year, which ends next Sunday.

MK Shalom said at the end of the meeting that it was "very good," adding that "we communicated the importance of holding general elections in the quickest fashion, so that we can maintain security and economic stability."

"It isn't possible to establish a coalition without Shas," Shalom said, referring to the task now facing the newly elected Kadima Party Chairwoman, Tzipi Livni, to recruit a majority of at least 61 MKs to join her coalition in order to avoid early elections and assume the role of Prime Minister. If Shas declines to join the coalition, she will likely not be able to recruit a majority, and general elections will be held sometime in early 2009.

Shalom concluded that the Likud is holding talks with all the parties in efforts to garner support for early elections.

Livni was scheduled to meet with Labor Chairman Ehud Barak Sunday evening. Barak has repeatedly called for the establishment of an emergency unity government.