Shas Says Would Support Including Kadima in Likud-led Coalition

Part official says extreme right-wing government would not survive until Knesset's summer term.

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Shas announced Thursday that it would support bringing Tzipi Livni's Kadima party into a Likud-led coalition.

"I think it would be very difficult to manage a narrow coalition," Shas chairman Eli Yishai told a closed meeting of his Knesset faction, according to people who attended. "The government would find it much easier to function if Kadima were part of it."

One Shas official even said after the meeting that "we don't want an extreme right-wing government, since aside from the ideological issue, it would not even be able to survive until the Knesset's summer term."

Yishai also told reporters before the meeting that he favored a broad coalition, though he did not mention Kadima explicitly. "This will be a very, very exciting Knesset - I would even say fragile - in terms of its ability to function, unless we manage to form a broad coalition," he said.

However, he stressed that the basis of the government must be the so-called "national camp," since "the nation voted for the right."

Meanwhile, Kadima has been courting Shas in an effort to persuade it to join a Kadima-led government instead, while Shas has been trying to forge a joint front among all the religious factions to increase their clout in coalition negotiations.

The latter effort scored one success Thursday: After Yishai met with the head of National Union, Ya'akov Katz, the latter declared that Yishai was authorized to speak "in the name of 15 seats on issues of the Land of Israel and the people of Israel" - a reference to Shas' 11 seats plus National Union's four.

However, Shas' attempt to forge an alliance with its most natural partner, the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism, hit a snag, due mainly to the internal divisions within the UTJ. MKs Meir Porush and Yaakov Litzman, representing UTJ's Agudat Yisrael faction, both agreed to cooperate. But MK Moshe Gafni, representing its Degel Hatorah faction, then announced that he opposes cooperating with Shas.

And even the partnership with National Union may not be smooth: The latter is both more hawkish than Shas on territorial issues and less convinced that bigger welfare checks are the best way to deal with poverty. However, both parties favor increased funding for yeshivas and higher child allowances for large families.

National Union presented its demands for entering the coalition to Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday. These include complete opposition to establishing a Palestinian state, making territorial concessions and evacuating settlements or outposts. Katz said afterward that the discussions had been positive and his faction would probably recommend Netanyahu as the next prime minister. He added that Netanyahu had promised that if given the nod, he would first hold talks with Likud's natural coalition partners on the right and only then try to bring in other parties.

Netanyahu was also supposed to meet with Habayit Hayehudi Thursday, but the meeting was postponed until next week.