Border Control / Bearer of Shas Tidings, Good and Bad

If it were up to him, Glass, who signed the Geneva Initiative, would never have brought up the demand to omit Jerusalem, the apple of the rabbi and his chief emissary, Shas Chairman Eli Yishai, from negotiations with the Palestinians.

"Every government, even if it is the most right-wing," he said in an interview with Haaretz, "will sit with the Palestinians and discuss Jerusalem."

Peace with security

Moreover, adds Glass, Yosef is also firm in his belief in the principle that peace with security is preferable to territories and saving lives is more important than the integrity of the Land of Israel. According to Glass, Yosef is concerned that at present, the Palestinian partner cannot guarantee the peace and security of Jerusalem. Apart from concern about the fate of the city's holy sites, the rabbi is worried that the Arab neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city may, in Palestinian hands, become a base for attacks on Israeli Jerusalem, which is exactly what happened to the northern Negev communities after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip.

You yourself say that there can be no negotiations with the Palestinians without a discussion on Jerusalem. How could you demand that Livni commit to removing the capital from the agenda?

"I do not conceal that my heart's desire is not to conduct coalition talks, but to be party to negotiations that will lead to peace with the Palestinians and Syria. But, this time I was representing the rabbi and not myself. I was pleased that Minister Ariel Atias [Shas] suggested a compromise proposal whereby Livni would bring the matter before the cabinet for a decision if talks reached the stage of Jerusalem. Livni rejected the proposal and refused to make any kind of commitment that could be perceived as tying her hands and made do with a formula stating that if we get to the matter of Jerusalem, Shas will have the right to resign from the government."

If you had reached an understanding on the matter of Jerusalem, would you have gotten over the issue of child stipends?

"As far as the allowances were concerned, both sides were willing to be more flexible. At the start of the negotiations, Shas presented a working paper, in which NIS 1.5 billion were suggested to increase the stipends of families with three children by 350 shekels a month. During the negotiations, Shas went down to NIS 1 billion, which would have translated into only an additional NIS 220 or so per month per family. No one can argue that this is a sectarian demand, because most families with three children are secular. There was also a proposal to allocate another NIS 1 billion to families with four or more children, but Shas' final figure was NIS 1 billion. Kadima was concerned about striking a deal on the round number of NIS 1 billion. Instead, they offered NIS 600 million for allowances and another NIS 350 million to yeshivas. There were indications that they were willing to increase the amount to NIS 700 million, but without allowing for any flexibility in the breakdown between the two components. But the agreement would have fallen apart over Jerusalem anyway. On Friday, the rabbi made a last attempt to persuade Livni to be flexible on this issue. He asked Eli while to contact her and ascertain whether it was still possible to revise the wording. The answer was no."

It is no secret that Eli Yishai was simultaneously in close contact with Benjamin Netanyahu. Livni claims that they were maneuvering behind her back from the start.

"Yishai told me from the beginning that he indeed had doubts about the longevity of the coalition. He expressed concern that Livni wanted to solidify her status by meeting with world leaders and attaining some diplomatic breakthrough, and then Shas would find itself trapped in a government with a leftist image. I myself presented to the rabbi the advantages as well as the disadvantages of joining the coalition and despite all their doubts, they told me that if all their demands relating to Jerusalem and the allowances were met, Shas would join the coalition.

Hand-in-hand with Netanyahu

"Netanyahu made it clear on a number of occasions that whether he wins or loses in the elections, he will go hand in hand with Shas. He made it clear that the barrier he imposed [as PM], regarding the issue of allowances, no longer existed, because his successful economic policy had made it possible to make strides toward Shas. Besides, the moment Livni agreed to violate the principle of not increasing the allowances, why should he be holier than the pope?"

You are surely familiar with the claim that the real story behind the negotiations between Shas and Kadima was Eli Yishai's desire to hold elections before Aryeh Deri's period of ineligibility for public office (due to his criminal conviction) expired, not to mention his internal feud with Atias.

"Eli and I are completely open with one another. I am aware of his talents, integrity and other advantages over his predecessor in the job. I presented this question to Yishai, straightforwardly, and he vehemently rejected the claim that the matter of Deri was a consideration for him. Furthermore, even if all of the rabbi's sworn friends, myself included, get together tomorrow and form a coalition in favor Deri, the rabbi will kick all of us out. He unquestioningly trusts Eli Yishai. He is grateful to him for leading Shas wisely during its most difficult times and achieving one thing after another. True, Atias was more interested than Eli in joining the government, but as soon as Livni rejected his compromise proposal on Jerusalem, he stepped into line with Eli."

Do you share the criticism of Livni's decision to first conduct negotiations with the Labor Party and only afterward with Shas, instead of doing so simultaneously?

"Both Olmert and Sharon did not negotiate simultaneously and started with Labor - the biggest partner. I also do not believe this would have added or detracted from our talks. The negotiations were conducted properly, and we have no complaints against Livni and her people in this regard. I claim only that they were not decisive. In any event, Shas is getting excellent feedback from its constituents on its positions in the negotiations and on its results. I did a survey in my synagogue, where most of the worshipers are from the academic and legal elite. Most think that Shas gained points by sticking to its positions and not joining the government. Even though I am usually a pessimistic Jew, I am willing to bet that Shas' power will increase in the next elections. Incidentally, Shas' polls indicated that the issue of the allowances, and even more so, Jerusalem, is critical for its constituents."

As a seasoned attorney, how does it feel to represent an elderly rabbi whom Yossi Sarid yesterday referred to as "a sort of ayatollah, 88 years old, frail, detached and prone to bouts of weeping"?

"I read those insulting comments. In the fingernail of his pinkie, the rabbi has more wisdom than Sarid has in his head. I can state with complete confidence that the rabbi is lucid and sharp as a razor. He is unmatched in his ability to issue halakhic rulings and he demonstrates full understanding of the problems of the state as well."

Judea and Samaria: Not so political?

At present, Jewish leftists are flooding the Internet with ads similar to the Yesha Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza campaign, but which present a completely different story. In their version, instead of innocent children, one can find a disrespectful woman from the Jewish quarter of Hebron and her friends beating Palestinian farmers. The Voice of Israel, which refused to air ads concerning the national census in favor of territorial compromise in the West Bank, agreed to air the "Judea and Samaria - the story of every Jew" ad. At the end of the commercial, listeners are invited to call the phone number of the campaign headquarters.

The Israel Broadcasting Authority's spokesman responded, on behalf of director general, Moti Sklar (a veteran resident of a community in Judea and Samaria) that "unlike the ad of the national census, in this case it was not a political ad. The call urging people to visit historic sites of the Jewish people is legitimate. These are sites whose deep connection to Jewish heritage is not disputed, and the ad does not refer to the political disagreement over the area of Judea and Samaria."

A reminder: Upon launching the campaign, the chairman of the Yesha Council, Danny Dayan, and Yakir Segev, who heads its Information Administration, explained that their message was: "Judea and Samaria is for us, they are the focus of the Israeli experience, and not the focus of the Palestinian problem. We do not ignore the existence of the Palestinian problem, but it is only fitting that it is returned to its natural place and not represent the lion's share of the discussion."

The two added, "This is a change in perception that can eventually also have an impact on the political decision that all of us, as one nation, will have to make." It is not political? It will be interesting to hear Sklar's reaction to the ad the left-wingers are preparing: "The West Bank - also the story of every Palestinian."