Friday, October 24, 2008

Shas waiting for Rabbi Ovadia's decision on coalition

Senior members of haredi party, headed by Chairman Eli Yishai, to arrive at spiritual leader's home for consultation Friday, following deadline set by PM-designate Livni
Attila Somfalvi

Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni is tired of waiting, and it appears that the deadline she set during Thursday's faction meeting, that a decision will be made by Sunday on whether to form a new government or call for general elections, has worked. Senior Shas members, headed by party Chairman Eli Yishai, are expected to arrive Friday morning at the home of the movement's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, for a consultation.

Sources in the ultra-Orthodox party said Thursday night that progress had been made on some of the issues related to the coalition agreement the negotiation teams are trying to reach, but that the disagreements on the child allowances (or "family grants") still stand.

Livni's offer of NIS 650 million (about $172 million) for the child allowances was rejected Wednesday. Shas officials said that the party was interested in a minimum sum of NIS 1 billion ($265 million) for this purpose.

Some of the members of Shas' negotiation team believe that in light of Livni's proposal, the party should join the government. According to Kadima sources, Attorney David Glass supports this move. Communications Minister Ariel Atias is also considered a supporter, but the final decision will be made by Rabbi Yosef.

Senior party members told Ynet that Shas Chairman Yishai would be able to become more flexible on this issue, "if he feels he has received a significant part of what he asked for. Yishai wants to be in the government, but he must feel that the main issue was dealt with to Shas' satisfaction."

Both sources close to Shas and to Livni believe that an addition of NIS150-200 million ($40-53 million) beyond what has already been offered to the haredi party will allow the negotiation teams to reach an agreement.

A high-ranking Kadima official told Ynet that "there is a bug in Shas. It's true that money can slightly solve this bug, but there is a problem with Eli Yishai, who is not enthusiastic about entering the government.

A senior Kadima minister noted that "even if a government is formed, I doubt it will last for long."

According to the minister, "Shas will have a sour face. (Labor Chairman Ehud) Barak will do everything to give Livni a hard time, and the government simply won't last. There will be elections within six months or a year. Therefore, the question is should we give Shas more money, in light of the fact that elections are anyway likely within a year."

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