Jerusalem (Jul. 28)
Negotiations for a new Likud-led coalition, overshadowed by the recent fighting in Lebanon, are continuing smoothly and the consensus here is that Premier Menachem Begin will have a new government ready to present to the Knesset by next Monday.
The two Orthodox factions, Aguda Israel and the National Religious Party, on which Begin depends to achieve a bare majority of 61 Knesset seats — provided he can induct Aharon Abu-Hatzeira’s Tami faction as well–have proven amenable to his overtures. Aguda leaders expressed confidence that an agreement would be reached on the controversial “Who is a Jew?” amendment to the Law of Return.
NO ULTIMATUM ON ‘WHO IS A JEW’
They stressed they would issue no ultimatum that unless adoption of the amendment is assured, they will not join the coalition. Begin has said he could offer no commitment although he personally favors the measure which would exclude from recognition as a Jew any person not converted by an Orthodox rabbi “according to halacha.”
The NRP, with which Begin met yesterday, also appeared satisfied to have two ministers in the next Cabinet compared to three in the outgoing government. The two, Yosef Burg and Zevulun Hammer, will hold four portfolios between them although the NRP’s Knesset strength was sharply reduced from 12 to six mandates in the June 30 elections.
Burg will retain the Interior Ministry and succeed to the Police Ministry as well. Hammer, who is Education Minister, will also get the Religious Affairs Ministry, now held by Abu Hatzeira. Despite its weakened position in the Knesset, the NRP is demanding a Deputy Religious Affairs Minister who would actually run the ministry while Hammer devotes his time to trying to rehabilitate the badly divided party.
In addition, the NRP is said to be demanding that its Knesset faction chairman, Yehuda Ben-Meir, be named deputy minister of defense or of foreign affairs. Begin reportedly promised to consult with the two men he has designated to be Defense and Foreign ministers–Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Shamir.
It was learned, meanwhile, that Transport Minister Haim Landau, who has been ill for some time, will not serve in the new government although Begin has offered to retain him in that post. Likud is now searching for a successor. Among the several candidates mentioned, Moshe Arens, currently chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, is said to have no interest in the office.
Others being considered are former Knesset Speaker Yitzhak Berman and David Schiffmann, a member of the Tel Aviv City Council who is considered an expert on transportation. There is also a possibility that the outgoing Deputy Defense Minister, Mordechai Zipori, may be offered the post.