Wednesday, January 16, 2008



DEBKAfile: Crack in Olmert government coalition with Israel Beitenu walkout and its call for elections

January 16, 2008, 1:10 PM (GMT+02:00)

Party leader Avigdor Lieberman announced Wednesday, Jan. 16, his faction was making good on its promise to quit his government post as strategic affairs minister if talks on “core issues” of the conflict were launched with Palestinian leaders.

He argued that Israel’s conflict with the Arabs was never territorial, rejected the “land for peace” convention as a trap, and urged the adoption instead of the principle of territorial exchange. Lieberman called for an early general election.

Olmert responded that the talks which foreign minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia began on core issues, Monday, Jan. 14, would continue.

Another coalition partner, the ultra-religious Shas, has not indicated whether it will hold to its commitment to exit the government if Jerusalem’s re-division was put on the table.

DEBKAfile reports: The departure of Israel Beitenu’s 11 Knesset members cuts the Olmert government’s majority in the 120-strong Knesset to seven. Without Shas’ 12 members, the government would hold only 55. Even if the prime minister can make up some of the missing numbers with the left-wing Meretz (4) and Torah Front (6), his government’s survival would still hang on support from the 10 members of the Arab factions. Olmert might have also to contend with potential defectors from his own Kadima party (29).

In exactly two weeks, Olmert faces the final report drawn up by the Winograd commission on his government’s mismanagement of the 2006 Lebanon War. Justice Eliahu Winograd has advised that his final document will not name names. But after lambasting government leaders in its interim report, the panel is unlikely to deal kindly with any part of the government and military which conducted the war.

Before he took up the defense portfolio, Labor leader Ehud Barak vowed to quit the government if this report were negative. His party of 19 lawmakers is divided over its withdrawal, which would bring the government down and force an early election.

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