Officials: Olmert-Peretz Spat Puts Coalition at Risk

Senior Labor and Kadima officials are concerned that a dispute between Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Labor Party chair Amir Peretz is endangering a coalition partnership between the two parties.

Meanwhile, Labor lost one seat in the final vote tally yesterday, bringing it down to 19. The seat went to United Arab List-Ta'al, which now has four seats, in accordance with a decision by the head of the Central Elections Committee, Justice Dorit Beinisch.

Labor MK Matan Vilnai announced yesterday that he opposes Peretz's move to join with the right to form a coalition without Kadima.

"I will not support a process that links us with National Union," he said. "The people who voted for us did not vote for the ultra-Orthodox or [Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor] Lieberman. It's a matter of national responsibility."

Nonetheless, Vilnai also attacked Kadima, saying: "I suggest that Kadima and Olmert stop demonstrating their disdain for Peretz. Everyone knows how the next government will look, and it's worthwhile to stop wasting time with spin and political games."

Other Labor officials also sharply criticized the behavior of Peretz and party secretary general Eitan Cabel, saying it was causing a rift on the left.

"Peretz is acting against explicit commitments he made to the voter - commitments that were made in our names as well - that we would not establish a government with the extreme right after the elections," a senior party official said. "He is causing a major split in the left-wing camp."

The officials said Peretz does not have full support in his pursuit of the right wing, but refrained from describing their differences in detail since they want to be Labor ministers in the next government.

Meanwhile, top Kadima officials criticized the way in which Olmert and his associates are negotiating with Peretz. They said they were concerned the dynamics of mutual recriminations would make it difficult for the two parties to sit in the same coalition. The officials said that Kadima's attacks on Peretz were unnecessary and caused him to announce that he would not give up on the finance portfolio.

"After they say that he's dangerous as a finance minister, that he's not suitable and that he's acting like the chairman of a workers committee, what did they expect?" one of the officials said. "That's not how you begin a partnership. It was possible to get this over with quickly, and now it has become complicated."

The top Kadima officials also said that the dispute is damaging negotiations.

"People should have been calmed rather than inflamed," said one of the officials. "Even so, the possibility of Peretz forming a government is not reasonable, so what's the pressure? In addition, whoever sees himself as a minister is tense. It's not a healthy situation."