The picture is muddled, but it seems obvious that Kadima is short of a governing majority at this point! MB
A crisis appeared to be looming in the coalition talks between Kadima and Shas, despite the fact that a deal between the two parties was wrapped up before the weekend.
The main obstacle to the Shas-Kadima deal arose on Friday when Shas’s leaders received copies of the coalition guidelines that had been agreed upon between Kadima and Labor. Shas has two significant objections to the guidelines. One of the principal clauses includes the sentence, “Israel’s territory, whose border will be decided by the government, will necessitate a reduction of the areas of Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria.”
A senior source in Shas said last night, “We can’t sign that.”
The other major problem is the clause on civil marriage, which says, “The government will introduce, without delay, legislation to solve the problem of those unable to get married.”
Shas is demanding that any such legislation first undergo a series of consultations with the chief rabbis, and only be passed with their consent.
Shas’s predicament is expected to become even more difficult today when Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman is expected to announce at a media conference scheduled for noon that the talks between Kadima and his party have broken down and that they are headed for the opposition.
Lieberman will attack Kadima and Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert over their pullback plans and Shas will find it extremely difficult remaining in what will now be a center-left coalition that includes Labor and possibly Meretz, which is planning to hold talks with Kadima now that Israel Beiteinu is out of the coalition picture. Most Shas voters are right-wingers and the party’s leader, Eli Yishai, promised before the elections not to join a government committed to evacuating Jewish settlements.
There is also a disagreement on the details of the deal on children’s allowances. Shas wants an assurance that not only will there be no more cuts, but also that past cuts will be reversed. Sources in Kadima tried to downplay the difficulties with Shas, saying they were “minor” and were confident the agreement would be signed today
Shas leader Eli Yishai has reportedly told several people that he will not sign an agreement that includes the uprooting of Jewish communities. This contrasts with the guidelines formulated for Labor’s coalition agreement with Kadima, which specifically call for the “reduction of Jewish settlement areas in Judea and Samaria” and the “setting of new borders.”
A senior Shas member was quoted today as saying, “The formulation of the agreement with Shas will not be the same as that with Labor. The topic of ‘convergence’ [the name of Ehud Olmert’s planned unilateral plan to withdraw from Judea and Samaria and uproot tens of thousands of Jewish residents – ed.] will be softer and less blatant.”
Ostensibly, the resulting coalition of over 70 MKs will be in a good position to implement the centerpiece of Kadima’s agenda: Olmert’s second disengagement plan. But though Israel Beiteinu is often thought to oppose that plan and claims to be staying out of the coalition because of differences with Olmert over it, the omission of Lieberman’s party could ultimately render “convergence” stillborn and potentially shorten the new government’s life expectancy. At the very least, it greatly weakens the coalition’s claim to speak for a wide consensus of Israel, extending into the center-right.
A government without the Likud or Israel Beiteinu has no real right flank. Its right-most element would be Shas – hardly a rightist party and moreover one which is entirely capable of bolting the government at the “convergence” moment of truth. This would destabilize the coalition and reduce its capacity to assert that it is representing the Israeli consensus – a crucial factor in ensuring internal harmony among Israeli Jews while pushing through a policy of this dramatic nature, under which tens of thousands of Israelis stand to lose their homes.
Lieberman was not conditioning his participation on the government’s adopting his land-swap plan, but on something else: that a further disengagement would only take place in exchange for international recognition of the borders Israel would establish.
This is ostensibly Olmert’s position already. In his election victory speech, Olmert said that he would only move forward with another withdrawal in the context of “a deep understanding” with the international community, particularly with the United States.
The question is whether Olmert is stating a preference or setting a condition. Does “convergence” depend on prior international recognition of the border Israel is seeking to establish, or does Olmert intend to move ahead even if he does not obtain such recognition?
Lieberman is saying that best efforts are not enough; the convergence plan must be made conditional on some form of concrete international recognition for Israel’s unilaterally-established border. Whatever one thinks of Lieberman’s other positions, and even if this is just his clever way of opposing disengagement, his argument cannot be lightly dismissed.
In an ideal world, the international support Israel seeks would make complete sense to Western nations, and such support would be readily forthcoming. In practice, however, the international community is more likely to ask itself why it should “pay” Israel to do something if our prime minister says he will do it no matter what.
The upshot is that Olmert would do well to more seriously consider Lieberman’s main demand, namely that convergence will be conditioned on — not just vaguely linked to — international recognition of borders that Israel has, for lack of a non-terrorist negotiating partner, been forced to establish unilaterally.
Even with such recognition, it may be a challenge for the government to make the case for evacuating thousands of Israelis from their homes in Judea and Samaria against their will, and an immense challenge for Israeli society to absorb. Without such a tangible benefit, implementing convergence will likely be both unwise and impossible.
Will Israel Our Home join the coalition? The new Kadima-led government “will not remove even one community,” Israel Our Home Chairman Avigdor Lieberman said in a press conference Sunday.
“There is a difference between the desired and possible,” he said. “In terms of economics and security it’s impossible to do it.”
The motive for Sunday’s press conference remains unclear, although it appeared Lieberman stressed his differences of opinion with Kadima. Still, he said his party may join the government nonetheless and noted “the ball is now in Kadima’s court.”