Olmert: Partners Must Back Pullout Plan

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said last night that if the chairman of the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party does not adopt his political plan, which is likely to include the unilateral evacuation of many West Bank settlements, the party cannot join the coalition.

Olmert told Channel 10 that any party that wants to join the coalition must agree to the "convergence plan" he described to Haaretz two weeks ago. "This is not an election gimmick. I am going with this, and I don't plan to hide it or evade it," he said. "Whoever doesn't support it cannot be a partner in a coalition I establish."

"We learned a lesson," said Olmert. "This is exactly why we established Kadima. First of all I want to win, I want a one-time historic majority. The time has come to give the power of a majority to one party that will not be extorted by a group of two or a group of three, or by an extortionist from the right or an extortionist from the left."

After Ariel Sharon introduced his plan to for a unilateral disengagement from Gaza, several members of his Likud party became known as "rebels" for protesting the pullout.

When Olmert was asked in a closed forum last night for his reaction to comments by Yisrael Beiteinu chair Avigdor Lieberman, who said he would not support Olmert's plan, the acting prime minister said that if Lieberman doesn't support it, he will not be a coalition partner.

"Lieberman began the battle and was too arrogant, so Olmert responded," said an Olmert associate. "He basically told him that there is no intention to play games."

Associates also said the comments were intended to draw Russian voters to Kadima, because Lieberman has been saying he will join the government.

Lieberman characterized Olmert's comments as standard election fare.

"What do you expect him to say five days before the elections?" he said. "I suggest speaking to him five days after the elections, and then there will be new motifs and new songs."

The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and Shas parties, meanwhile, see themselves as potential partners in a coalition they assume will be headed by Olmert - yet Shas chair Eli Yishai rejects the condition Olmert set for participation in the next government.

"In a clear and unequivocal way, Shas is in favor of a right-wing government," said Yishai, adding that his party would oppose a "government that continues the policy of unilateral concessions."

"We previously opposed this and will continue to oppose this in the future," he said. "We must wait for what the people say at the polls. I trust and am sure that the nation will not be able to tolerate another unilateral plan, in light of the damage we are witnessing as a result of the withdrawal from Gaza ... We see the ramifications of the disengagement plan in that the Qassams have reached Ashkelon, and if there is another disengagement plan, the Qassams will come even closer."

Nonetheless, Shas is already preparing for coalition talks with Kadima, and has decided that Yishai will head the party's negotiation team.

UTJ chair Yaakov Litzman said, "United Torah Judaism's traditional position is against disengagement." Although UTJ was a member of Ariel Sharon's coalition, party members voted against the Gaza pullout "in accordance with the rabbis' instructions," Litzman said. He did not rule out any options, saying, "All demands regarding coalition negotiations will be brought to the rabbis for a decision."