WASHINGTON – "There's a 50/50 chance a new government will be established. (Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi) Livni wants to form a new coalition and is conducting talks to that end, but we are not afraid of going to general elections, and therefore these talks should have a time limit to prevent added pressure (from political parties)," Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, also of Kadima, said Friday.
Sheetrit, who is in the US for talks with Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, told reporters he believes Shas Chairman Eli Yishai is also in favor of general elections, but the religious party's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, prefers a new coalition under Livni's leadership.
The interior minister criticized Shas' conditions for joining a Livni-led coalition, including an increase in child welfare payments and a promise that Jerusalem would not be discussed during the ongoing peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
"I don’t think Israel can afford to revise its budget at this juncture," Sheetrit said, "Deviating from the State Budget now would be catastrophic, particularly in light of the global financial crisis and its future ramifications on Israel, which may be severe.
"Increasing our expenses would be irresponsible in my opinion. I do not understand these (Shas') demands from a party that was part of the government that approved the State Budget," he said.
Sheetrit said that preventing any new coalition from dissolving within a year requires a stricter coalition agreement. "The current situation is intolerable. We need an agreement that would force discipline on the members of the new government," he said.
"(Labor Chairman Ehud) Barak says he wants the new government to last until 2010, but in the meantime members of his party are voting against the government they are a part of."