Jerusalem (Aug. 2)
Government sources expressed confidence this weekend that Premier Menachem Begin will be able to present his new government to the Knesset Tuesday, a day within the 21-day period allotted to him by President Yitzhak Navon to form a new coalition. Despite last-ditch haggling by Likud’s three small prospective partners — the National Religious Party, Aguda and Tami — these sources felt that all the pieces of the elaborate jigsaw would fall into place before the time limit.
They felt that Begin’s repeated assertions that he would not ask for a second 21-day period, to which he is entitled under law, had the desired softening-up effect upon the partners. Each of the small parties seemed on the verge of giving that little bit that would make compromise possible on issues that bothered them.
Tami was expected to agree, reluctantly, to NRP’s Yosef Burg taking over the Religious Ministry — with the explicit undertaking on his part that he would not “purge” followers of Aharon Abu Hatzeira, Tami’s leader, from the religious establishment. In return for giving way on this sticky point, Tami was expected to be awarded one or even two deputy ministerships, so that Tami’s three Knesset members — Abu Hatzeira, Aharan Uzzan and Benzion Rubin — will all emerge from the coalition talks with government posts. Abu Hatzeira, himself, is slated for the important Labor and Social Welfare Ministry.
Aguda is expected to accept Begin’s compromise proposal on “Who is a Jew” whereby the coalition will
undertake to amend the Law of Return within two years. Aguda’s Council of Sages was due to convene today and was expected to endorse this compromise. The co-chairman of the Council of Sages, Hasidic Rebbe of Gur Simcha Bunim Alter, met privately last weekend with Liberal Party leader Simcha Ehrlich and is understood to have received assurances from him that enough Liberals would back the proposed Orthodox amendment within the two-year grace period to ensure its passage through the Knesset.
The NRP is also likely to accept this compromise. Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef met with Begin and Ehrlich last week and subsequently seemed to radiate optimism as to the prospect of the Law of Return eventually being amended.
The prospective partners spent hours closeted together today to hammer out various sections of the coalition agreement. Political pundits did not rule out 11-hour crises today and tomorrow. But the consensus was that Begin would overcome the remaining obstacles and form his government by midweek.