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If PM bows to Shas, we're out!

Barak to wait for A-G's ruling before making any decisions

By Yossi Verter
Ha'aretz Political Correspondent

Education Minister and Meretz Party chair Yossi Sarid is threatening that his party will bolt the coalition if Prime Minister Ehud Barak accedes to the latest Shas demands. Shas wants Deputy Education Minister Meshulam Nahari to have responsibility over his party's educational network, Ma'ayan Hahinuch Hatorani, and changes in the reform plan for this network.

Sarid said that Barak has nothing to fear from Meretz's leaving the government, because "10 sons of Haman [the evil vizier in the Scroll of Esther], who are the 10 Meretz MKs, will still vote in favor of peace and of the peace process."
Barak is waiting for Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein to decide whether or not to open a criminal investigation against Shas' spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, for harsh utterances about Sarid during his sermon last Saturday night. If Rubinstein opts not to order an inquiry, Barak will then announce his decision, which will likely favor of Shas's demands. But if Rubinstein does indeed decide to investigate Rabbi Yosef, Barak's office fears that Shas may leave the coalition.

One Israel officials told Ha'aretz that Meretz's threat is serious, and that, if Barak agrees to Shas's demands, "Meretz will be out already next week."
During yesterday's contacts, Shas members told One Israel representatives that they would not commit themselves to supporting the peace process in advance, nor to withdraw their support for the Likud-sponsored referendum law. Barak's office was bitterly disappointed at Shas's stand, having hoped that the party would agree to announce its "return to the coalition" in exchange for the meeting of its demands, something that would have also encouraged concessions from Meretz.

Barak plans to announce his decision by next Monday - the date of the Knesset vote on the Likud's no-confidence motion on the subject of Jerusalem.
Sarid claims that Meretz "went to the limit" in conceding to Shas, but that it "won't exceed it." Reopening the Ma'ayan agreement would mean the funneling of tens of millions of shekels into the network's coffers, and "no matter where the money comes is taxpayers' money that is better spent elsewhere," he said. Sarid also claimed that a renegotiation of the Ma'ayan agreement is meant "to drag us around again like carcasses in the market, and we don't intend to go over this route again. Sarid yesterday criticized Barak's mild response to Rabbi Yosef's statements, calling it "slack, thin, and soft."

Despite Sarid's statements, officials in the Barak's office are still hoping that the chance for renewed talks with Syria will cause the Meretz leader to withdraw his threats of leaving the coalition.
Sarid was prevented by the General Security Services (Shin Bet) from participating in a Meretz youth demonstration last night at Tel Aviv's Yitzhak Rabin Square, out of fears for his security. The youth auxiliary decided to call the gathering, which was held to protest against Rabbi Yosef's violent statements: "We don't want a Sarid Square.

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