Olmert Prefers Lieberman Over Shas in Coalition

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is leaning toward bringing Avgidor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu into the coalition instead of Shas. Olmert said yesterday in conversation behind closed doors that despite Lieberman's opposition to withdraw from the territories, he seems to be a convenient partner, reliable and easier than Eli Yishai and Shas.

Sources close to Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday slammed Yishai for the meeting he held with Peretz in which the two tried to create a common front on social issues. The sources were also said to be angered at statements by Yishai yesterday against Olmert's convergence plan. "It looks like Shas has gotten used to being in the opposition," the sources said. "Maybe it wants to stay there for the next term."

The final results of the elections was published yesterday (see table). As a result, Kadima claimed that "a coalition can be created in which there will be a Jewish majority for the convergence plan." Meanwhile, Labor is working to convince factions to support Peretz for prime minister to raise the stakes in the negotiations.

"Anyone who recommends Peretz will not be in the coalition," Kadima said.

"If Yishai is trying to establish a united front with Peretz on social issues and on the other hand is against a diplomatic plan that now has a solid Jewish majority supporting it - it better go with Lieberman," senior officials in Olmert's bureau said. "Lieberman will not establish fronts or alliances with Peretz, because in economics we are on the same wavelength with him. Yisrael Beiteinu is also less unstable and problematic than Shas, which gave Sharon numerous problems in the first term," they said.

Sources in Labor said Peretz had begun talks with a number of factions to recommend him to the president to form the cabinet and thus to the post of prime minister. Yishai said in response that he did not discount the possibility that Shas would recommend Peretz to the president: "Shas has no preferred candidate; as long as [the movement's spiritual mentor] Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has not stated his preference we will not discuss it."

It is believed in Kadima that in the end Shas will be part of the coalition, after Yishai signs the coalition platform, since Yosef does not want the party to remain in opposition for another term.

Sources in Labor accused Haim Ramon and Shimon Peres of trying to prevent the party from entering the coalition, and had begun talks with Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party to bring it into the coalition. Ramon and Peres denied the allegations.

Olmert's people told Haaretz that Peretz's attempts to establish a united front against Olmert and to block Olmert's efforts to form a coalition were not in keeping with proper governing norms, since Kadima won nine more seats than Labor.

Sources in Labor said talks were under way with Meretz, the Arab parties, and even the National Religious Party-the National Union, to ask them to recommend Peretz to the president. While Labor is said to realize Peretz's chances to form the coalition are slim, they want to use it as a threat to Kadima to raise the stakes in coalition negotiations. Sources in Peretz's inner circle denied the claims

At the end of the meeting between Peretz and Yishai, Peretz said, "Israel wants an economic-social agenda. Shas is a peace-seeking party and agrees with us on the importance of human dignity, and we have many issues in common."

Yishai confirmed that the two parties had much in common, but said that the only purpose of the meeting was for both sides to present their positions. Yishai said restoring social benefits was a deal-breaker in terms of Shas joining the coalition.

A senior Labor member said yesterday that the party's basic demand in negotiation with Kadima was the finance portfolio for Amir Peretz and the education ministry for Yuli Tamir. However some in Labor hinted that Peretz would not be opposed to receiving the defense ministry instead of the treasury.

Yulie Khromchenko adds: Meretz decided at a meeting yesterday to recommend to the president that Peretz form the coalition said Ran Cohen, appointed chairman of the party's negotiating team. Cohen said Meretz's condition was that Peretz would not enter a coalition with the Likud, the National Union or Yisrael Beiteinu.

Cohen called Kadima's threat that a party that recommends Peretz to the president would not enter the coalition "irrelevant."