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Shas not to join Livni coalition.

Byline: Mohammed Mar'i

RAMALLAH, West Bank: In a dramatic announcement yesterday, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party said it would not be joining a new government under prime minister-designate Tzipi Livni "under any conditions", leaving the head of the ruling Kadima party with little chance of forming a coalition government.

The development comes a day after Livni, who has just 10 days left to cobble together a government, said that she would make a decision by tomorrow on whether she would continue with her mission until the Nov. 3 deadline or call for an early general election.

In a statement yesterday morning, Shas stressed that throughout the coalition talks it had never sought titles or political promotions. "We have asked for two things only: real assistance for the weak sectors of Israeli society and the protection of Jerusalem," said the party. "Today's distress and difficulties can't be ignored, (particularly) when it is reported that Israel has the highest poverty levels among developed countries."

The party emphasized that for the duration of the coalition talks it had stressed that if Jerusalem's status is not secured it would have a bearing on all future peace negotiations and would show Israel to be a country that "caves in under political pressure and makes routine concessions."

The party went on to say that its negotiators had suggested solutions to outstanding issues, but they had been dismissed. "In light of this, the Council of Torah Sages (the leadership of the Shas party), headed by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has decided that Shas cannot join a coalition under current conditions," the statement said.

When asked on Voice of Israel Radio whether the decision was final, Shas Chairman Eli Yishai said: "Yes. Shas cannot be bought and Shas will not sell out Jerusalem."

Sources close to Livni said she was not prepared to pay any price in order to build a coalition. The foreign minister is determined to meet with President Shimon Peres tomorrow as planned, the sources said.

If she tells Peres that she has failed to form a coalition, he may decide to entrust another Knesset member with that task or call early elections.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:Oct 25, 2008
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