Facing Coalition Difficulties, Netanyahu Postpones U.S. Trip

As Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu’s chances of forming a coalition before a self-imposed deadline waned, his office announced that he would not travel to the United States until mid-July.

Netanyahu had been tentatively scheduled to go to Washington at the end of this month.

The June trip was scheduled on the assumption that he would put together his new government by June 17, the first day of the Knesset session.

Netanyahu’s office said he wanted more time to prepare for the trip.

Israel Radio reported that in light of the delay, his office had requested that U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher come to Israel beforehand.

Netanyahu’s coalition talks with religious and secular centrist parties were still in full swing this week, and Cabinet appointments still had to be sorted out.

The effort was further complicated by the attorney general’s announcement that two potential ministers in the Netanyahu government were under investigation.

Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert could face possible fraud charges in connection with a financial scandal from 1988.

Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair decided this week to prosecute Olmert for suspected involvement in creating false receipts as well as other misdeeds during the Likud Party’s election campaign eight years ago, when he was party treasurer.

Olmert, a close ally of Netanyahu’s, now has immunity as a member of the Knesset, a position he still holds.

He has denied any wrongdoing and has said he was sure that the mistake would become clear.

Meanwhile, Tsomet member Rafael Eitan, who joined the Likud bloc in the current elections, allegedly obtained and misused classified army documents.

Eitan, who acknowledged that he had seen the documents but said he did not know there was any wrongdoing involved, met with the attorney general Wednesday.

Ben-Yair said Eitan could be appointed to the Cabinet – but not to any posts that have access to sensitive material. This would rule out the public security portfolio, a new post Eitan was expected to be given.

The Tsomet leader met later Wednesday with Netanyahu. He said Ben-Yair had assured him that the police investigation into the matter would likely be completed within a week. Eitan asked that the incoming premier wait to make any offers.

Meanwhile, another Knesset member whose political party is involved in coalition negotiations with the Likud remained in the hospital Wednesday.

Aryeh Deri of the fervently Orthodox Shas Party was admitted Monday night after suffering a minor stroke that party members blamed on what they called “media hounding” of their leader over the corruption trial he is now facing.

Those close to him said he was upset by an interview he had given earlier in the day to Israel Radio.

Deri’s parliamentary immunity was lifted during his tenure as interior minister under the Rabin government. He was forced to resign from the post to face trial.

Doctors at Hadassah Hospital in the Ein Kerem section of Jerusalem said he was in satisfactory condition.

NEXT STORY