Shas and UTJ Meet With Kadima

Coalition negotiations continue, as Kadima representatives meet with their counterparts of various parties. Shas and UTJ appear to be headed for the coalition, despite Olmert's withdrawal plans.

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Hillel Fendel, | updated: 17:54

Kadima negotiations have met so far this week with the Likud (which will not be joining the coalition), as well as with Meretz, the Pensioners, United Torah Judaism and Shas. All sides (except for the Likud) said the talks were positive but not conclusive.

Prime Minister-designate Ehud Olmert has said that he will endeavor to form the broadest coalition he can. The main issues are further withdrawals and increased welfare aid to the underprivileged classes. The second topic is one that all the potential coalition partners, except possibly Yisrael Beiteinu, have championed, and they will therefore not present an obstacle to a coalition agreement. Kadima has already said that most of UTJ's budgetary demands will be met.

However, the issue that Olmert has called "turning inward," or a unilateral withdrawal from most of Judea and Samaria, is something that UTJ and Shas will have trouble supporting. This is not preventing them from continuing talks to join the coalition, however.

Shas leader MK Eli Yishai told Arutz-7's Yigal Shok that the word "hitkansut" - meaning 'convergence' or 'turning inward' and referring to Olmert's withdrawal plan - will not be mentioned in the coalition guidelines. Yishai added that the party's spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef continues to remain opposed to withdrawals of this nature.

"Unfortunately, a government can be formed even without us," Yishai said, "though this was something we tried very hard [during the election campaign] to prevent."

At present, Olmert has the certain support only of 60 MKs - Kadima (29), Labor (19), Pensioners (7) and Meretz (5). This is not sufficient to form a government, which must be least 61, or a majority of the Knesset.

Yisrael Beiteinu, with 11 MKs, is also a candidate to join the coalition. In the past it has been nearly dead-set against unilateral withdrawals, but MK Yuri Stern toned down the party's stance on this matter today. Olmert, however, has said that he would not want to form a government that can be toppled at the whim of one party. This means that he hopes to include also Shas and United Torah Judaism, both of which have said they would not like to be the only religious party in the coalition.

Without Shas and/or UTJ, Olmert cannot form a government that he considers stable. MK Yishai did not explain why he would consider joining - and therefore facilitating the formation of - a government that is determined to carry out a move similar to the Disengagement that Shas so strongly opposed.

Shas MK Yitzchak Cohen, appearing on the Knesset television channel shortly after the election, said his party would not support another unilateral disengagement, by the ruling of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef. When fellow studio-guest MK Natan Sharansky (Likud) asked Cohen if Shas plans to join the government and then simply quit when the disengagement is voted upon - thus enabling the disengagement - Cohen said he did not understand the question.

Another issue up for coalition negotiation is the recent landmark ruling by the Supreme Court that Rabbinical courts may not deal with monetary issues - even those that are connected with divorce agreements. Chief Rabbi Rishon LeTzion Shlomo Amar has called an emergency Chief Rabbinical Council for immediately after Passover on the matter.

"Everyone agrees that the only way to deal with this issue is by changing the law," Arutz-7 Ariel Kahane reports, "- either the Rabbinical Courts Law, or the Arbitration Law. However, this issue has not even been raised in the coalition talks so far. The #2 MK in Shas, Yitzchak Cohen, told me that though it's obvious that the law must be changed and something must be done, it's still too early to bring it up. In addition, United Torah Judaism appears not to be interested in this issue; they have their own rabbinical courts. The only one who appears to be bothered by this issue is the National Religious Party - but they are headed for the opposition, where they will have little say."