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Aguda Israel Working out Details of an Agreement with Likud

The ultra-Orthodox Aguda Israel, said to be firmly determined to continue its partnership with Premier Menachem Begin is expected to decide tomorrow to establish “negotiating teams” to work out the details of an agreement with Likud. The Aguda is expected to demand stricter Sabbath observance laws and assurances that the new Knesset will amend the Law of Return to define a Jew as a person born of a Jewish mother or converted by an Orthodox rabbi “according to halacha.”

The Aguda, however, will carefully avoid any commitment as to the longevity of its agreement and may insist on the right to dissent on certain issues, political observers said. Its move toward a coalition with Likud was reported today following a meeting between the Premier and the top man on the Aguda’s Knesset list, Avraham Shapiro, a wealthy carpet merchant.

Shapiro was reliably reported to have favored a pact with the Labor Alignment when it appeared that Labor might have won one or more Knesset seats than Likud. But the final vote count gave Likud a one seat edge, making it impossible for Labor to form a majority coalition.

The larger body of opinion within the Aguda clearly favors the alliance with Likud although, as Shapiro explained, their preference was not for the party itself but for Begin personally because of his Orthodox practices. Begin “mentions the name of God at every opportunity,” Shapiro said.

Political observers expect the Aguda, with only four Knesset seats, to retain the chairmanship of the Knesset’s powerful Finance Committee. It will not sit in the Cabinet, however, since this is forbidden by Aguda’s “Council of Sages” which determines every action of the party according to religious tenets.

SHARON MAY BE DEFENSE MINISTER

It appeared increasingly likely, meanwhile, that Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, the Cabinet’s most outspoken hawk, will be named Defense Minister when Begin forms his new government. Sharon was Begin’s choice for the post after Ezer Weizman resigned last year but he ran into stiff opposition from other ministers, notably the two Deputy Premiers, Yigael Yadin and Simcha Ehrlich.

Yadin, whose Democratic Movement is now defunct, has departed from politics. Ehrlich remains a leader of Likud’s Liberal Party faction but with hawks dominating the next government it is unlikely that he will be able to muster opposition to Sharon as he did in the past.

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