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Livnat offers Shas coalition deal (JERUSALEM POST) By GIL HOFFMAN 01/27/05)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1106740796045 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Education Minister Limor Livnat presented Shas mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef with an offer on Wednesday morning for the ultra-Orthodox party to join the coalition in return for some NIS 800 million in stipends for poor school children.

Livnat met with Yosef at his Jerusalem home for 45 minutes in an attempt to convince the rabbi to allow Shas´s 11 MKs to join the coalition and bring the national-unity government much-needed stability. Sharon will meet with Shas chairman Eli Yishai on Sunday in attempt to finalize a coalition agreement.

The deal Livnat offered would waive school fees for children in the lowest socio-economic brackets and give them free school lunches and textbooks. However, it would not restore cutbacks in child allowances, which is Shas´s primary demand and a red line for Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Livnat said that with the blessing of Sharon and Netanyahu, she attempted to end the stalemate in coalition talks by coming up with a way to satisfy Shas´s goal of helping poor children without forcing Netanyahu to make concessions on his economic policies. She said her deal is worth much more money than Shas is seeking in child allowances.

"If Shas rejects this offer, then they are not serious about joining the government and they are just playing a game," Livnat told The Jerusalem Post. "Bibi won´t give in on the child allowances, but he wants Shas in the coalition and he is willing to pay for it. This is a way for Shas to help hungry children in a more direct manner."

Yosef told Livnat that her offer made good sense, but Yishai said he would still insist on restoring the child allowance cutbacks, at least partially. Yishai said that while the stipends would help parents of school children, the allowances are essential to help parents of all poor children make ends meet financially.

Sources close to Livnat said she would try to convince Netanyahu to compromise with Shas by restoring at least a fraction of the child allowance cutbacks. This would allow Yishai to earn a political victory that would help his efforts to take away votes from Likud and United Torah Judaism.

Sharon´s associates said it was unlikely that a deal would be finalized during Sunday´s Sharon-Yishai meeting and perhaps not for another two weeks. They said the coalition talks were "proceeding very slowly but with high hopes."

Even if the Likud manages to reach a coalition deal with Shas, it is possible that Labor will make it difficult to get the deal approved. Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz said he would protest if his ministry would have to make cutbacks to fund a deal with Shas. (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 01/27/05)

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