- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

TEL AVIV — The addition of a pro-settler party to the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has left lawmakers questioning how long the left-right coalition will survive.

Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party with 11 seats joined the government this week, boosting Mr. Olmert’s majority to nearly two-thirds of the parliament, or Knesset.

But some say the symmetry is a recipe for paralysis.

“I don’t see it lasting,” said Knesset member Avishay Braverman of the Labor Party, Mr. Olmert’s largest coalition partner.

“I’m not sure this hybrid of Kadima, Labor and Yisrael Beitenu is a viable coalition. It doesn’t have any clear policy. What Lieberman advocates is the opposite of the Labor Party. I’m troubled by the lack of coherence and direction.”

With the nebulous job title of minister for strategic threats, Mr. Lieberman opposes any unilateral pullbacks in the West Bank and is expected to oppose peace efforts with the Palestinians or with Syria.

On the other hand, Labor’s dovish constituency expects the party to push the government toward peace negotiations.

Mr. Lieberman advocates giving away Israeli Arab towns near the West Bank to Palestinian control for Israeli sovereignty over Jewish settlements. The suggestion has made him a pariah of the Israeli left.

“Olmert faces a severe loss of public face. After having embarked in March with a pompous promise to leave most of the West Bank, he’s ended up in the hands of a settler hawk,” said Amos Asa-El, a fellow at the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem research institute.

“He’s established himself as spineless ideologically. You can’t come in the morning and tell the average Israeli that the best thing for you is unilateral withdrawal, and then in the evening come and walk with Lieberman. The public won’t swallow it.”

Mr. Olmert faces lingering criticism over Israel’s poor performance in the summer war against Hezbollah. In addition, he must also grapple with a new corruption inquiry.

Last week, Israeli newspapers reported that the state prosecutor had started to look into reports that when Mr. Olmert briefly served as acting finance minister, he accepted bribes from U.S. businessmen Daniel Abraham and Frank Lowy to give them a leg up in their bid to purchase control of Bank Leumi from the government.

Mr. Olmert is already the focus of an investigation into his sale of his Jerusalem home for a price significantly above market rates.

“Politically, Olmert’s situation has improved,” since the Lebanon war, said Ben Dror Yemini, the opinion page editor and a columnist at the Ma’ariv newspaper. “But no one knows what the effect of the investigations against him will be.”


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