Livni says Shas-free coalition possible
jpost.com staff, gil hoffman and AP, THE JERUSALEM POST
New Kadima leader Tzipi Livni began her efforts to form a new government and become prime minister on Thursday by threatening Shas Chairman Eli Yishai that she could form a coalition without his party.
Livni invited Yishai to her home in north Tel Aviv where they discussed possible political scenarios following the expected resignation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on October 2, the day after Rosh Hashana. Livni told Yishai that she wanted to maintain the same coalition factions and guidelines, but that she had other options.
One scenario that has been discussed among Livni's associates is a coalition of Kadima, Labor, the two pensioners' parties, United Torah Judaism and Meretz. MKs in both Meretz and UTJ are eager to join the coalition.
"I am against sticking to our seats in the opposition for no reason," UTJ MK Avraham Ravitz said. "This government is not anti-religious and we have no problem serving under a woman. We can advance our agenda better in the government."
In the meeting, Yishai warned Livni that a Shas-less government would not be able to last very long. He raised his parties' two key demands of raising child welfare allowances and preventing negotiations with the Palestinians on the fate of Jerusalem, and said that for Shas to remain in the coalition, Livni's ally, Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On, would have to ease his "anti-welfare policies."
"If Livni will be willing to contend with the million hungry children and will not divest from our diplomatic assets, especially Jerusalem, Shas will enter Livni's government and if not, we won't be there," Yishai said. "She must provide answers on poverty. We won't give up on our ideals."
Shas officials expressed doubt that Livni could build a new government. They said she would be caught between her desires to form a coalition and to avoid looking like she gave into the blackmail of coalition horse-trading.
Labor also made an effort to play hard-to-get before coalition negotiations have even begun. When Labor Chairman Ehud Barak called Livni to congratulate her on her victory, he turned down her request to schedule a meeting with him.
Olmert will announce his intention to resign at Sunday's cabinet meeting, but he is not expected to formally submit his resignation letter to President Shimon Peres until October 2, the day after Rosh Hashana. Olmert's excuses for delaying his resignation include the holiday, Peres's trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly and the need for the president to consult with the Knesset's 13 faction heads over a seven-day period before entrusting Livni with forming a new government.
Livni hopes to form a government by the time the Knesset returns to session on Monday, October 27. It was still unclear Thursday night whether she would form a coalition negotiating team.
Many world leaders congratulated Livni on Thursday, including US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the German and British foreign ministers.