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Coalition Talks Run into Snag As Religious Parties Balk

Premier Menachem Begin has summoned all of his potential coalition partners to a “crucial” meeting tomorrow after a meeting this morning failed to remove the major obstacles to the establishment of a new Likud-led government in partnership with the religious parties.

He and his aides have reminded the religious factions that unless a coalition agreement is reached now, he will return his mandate to President Yitzhak Navon next Tuesday when the 21-day period allowed by law to form a government expires. While Begin can request an additional 21 days, he said at the outset that he would not take advantage of the extension.

To achieve a bare 61-seat majority in the Knesset, Begin must have the 13 mandates held by the National Religious Party and the ultra-Orthodox Aguda Israel, plus the three of Tami, the faction headed by Religious Affairs Minister Aharon Abu-Hatzeira who broke away from the NRP shortly before the June 30 elections.

PRESSING HARD FOR DEMANDS

The religious parties, though weak themselves, hold the balance of power and are pressing hard for their demands. The NRP is insisting that its leader, Interior Minister Yosef Burg, receive the Religious Affairs Ministry as well. The Aguda’s price for joining a coalition is a guarantee from Begin that the new Knesset will amend the Law of Return so as to exclude from citizenship any convert to Judaism not converted by an Orthodox rabbi “according to halacha.”

While Begin, whose Orthodox practices have endeared him to the religious parties, personally supports the amendment, he has refused to make a commitment until now, mainly because Likud’s Liberal Party wing is strongly opposed to the amendment. At today’s meeting, he reportedly offered a pledge to amend the law “within two years.” There was no immediate response from the religious parties.

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