Shas MKs
Shas MKs

As Prime Minister Ehud Olmert increasingly hints that a final agreement with the Palestinian Authority is close, the Shas party steps up its threats to quit the government. As the agreement progresses, so does Shas' march out of the government.

Shas, Israel's Sephardic-hareidi-religious party, is the party on which the government coalition is currently most dependent. Until now, it has threatened to quit only if negotiations with the Palestinian Authority deal with the partition of Jerusalem.  Despite much evidence that such talks have, in fact, begun, Shas has maintained that no such talks are underway - while continuing to insist that it would quit the moment they begin.

Now, however - just three days before the arrival of U.S. President George Bush in honor of Israel's 60th birthday - Shas says that any agreement with the PA is dangerous enough to warrant quitting the government. 

Shas Can Bring Down Government

The government coalition currently numbers only 64 Knesset Members (out of 120).  The Pensioners Party, following its recent split, now has four MKs; it has not threatened to quit. Labor has 19 MKs, and it also appears to be solidly in the government - at least as long as there are no major developments in the police investigation of Olmert. Shas, however, with its 11 MKs, represents a major and constant threat to the integrity of the government coalition.

Shas political leader and Minister of Industry and Trade Eli Yishai said on Monday morning that he would recommend to his party's spiritual leaders that Shas should quit if an agreement is formulated with the Palestinian Authority.  "We will not lend our hand to any attempt to hand over territory to Hamas," Yishai said. 

Olmert told Newsweek last week that even if a final agreement is not reached by the end of the year, he hopes to have a type of "declaration of principles." Yishai related to this and said he would recommend quitting if "any dangerous shelf agreement is reached... Shas will not be part of a government that reduces the Jewish country and fills it with [Arab] refugees... Giving land to [PA and Fatah Chairman] Abu Mazen essentially means giving it to Hamas, as happened in Gaza.  It's obvious that if Abu Mazen can't make peace amidst his own people, how can he make peace with us?"

Even just attempting to formulate such an agreement is dangerous, Yishai said: "This mad dash to attain a virtual agreement will lead to a deterioration of our security... We are in favor of peace, but first there has to be peace within the PA. Until then, we have nothing to talk about with them regarding borders, territories, and refugees, and certainly not Jerusalem.  The only thing we can talk about is financial issues; if we make progress there, the terrorism will decrease."

Rabbis to Bush: Don't Meet With Olmert, Don't Help Destroy Jerusalem

Other religious elements are similarly suspicious of Olmert, and leading rabbis have written to Bush himself, asking him not to meet with the Israeli premier. 

"The Prime Minister is prepared to betray his country and homeland in order to save himself from the law," the Yesha Rabbis Council writes in a particularly strong letter.  "Do not let yourself be engraved in history as Nebuchadnezzar or Titus [who destroyed Jerusalem 2,500 and 2,000 years ago, respectively]."

Also signed on the letter are Rabbis Yaakov Yosef, David Druckman, Shmuel Eliyahu and Shalom Dov Wolpe.

Criticizing U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, the letter states that American pressure on Israel to destroy Jewish towns, exile their residents and give up land has resulted in "Hamas control over Gaza, catastrophe for 2,000 families, and allowing our enemies to become stronger and present a major threat to millions of Jews... It is an unprecedented chutzpah for the US, at the same time that it fights terrorism on one front, to pressure Israel to give in to terrorists on another front!"

"In the name of the Nation of Israel, the Land of Israel, the Torah of Israel, and the G-d of Israel, we demand of your honor to cease pressuring Israel to give land to the Arabs.  We ask that you do not meet with Mr. Olmert on these matters, and certainly not during this period.  Mr. President, do not be engraved in history as Nebuchadnezzar and Titus, who destroyed Jerusalem.  You certainy recall that America does not benefit from causing harm to the Jewish People and its land.  If you work on behalf the integrity of the Land of Israel, we guarantee you and your country endless blessings."