Jerusalem (Aug. 3)
Premier Menachem Begin appeared to be on the verge of successfully putting together his new coalition government after a number of 11th-hour proposals and compromises were worked out today to satisfy the demands of the various coalition partners. Marathon negotiations were conducted throughout the day with the National Religious Party, Aguda Israel and Tami with the aim of signing the coalition agreement which Begin hopes to be able to present tomorrow to the Knesset. (See late story, P.3)
One of the proposals is that Tami will have the Absorption Ministry portfolio in addition to the Labor and Social Welfare portfolio. Tami’s leader Aharon Abu Hatzeira will hold both ministries and Tami’s number two man, Aharon Uzzan, will be Deputy Minister of Transportation.
In return, Tami will waive its demand to retain control of the Religious Ministry and agree to it going to NRP’s Yosef Burg — but only on condition that Burg pledges not to fire the present director general, Gedalia Schreiber, and other pro-Hatzeira figures in the religious establishment.
While Burg has not yet agreed to this condition, he is reportedly under pressure from within the NRP to acceed. In order to further sweeten the pill for NRP, Begin has persuaded Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir to agree to take NRP’s Knesset member Yehuda Ben-Meir as Deputy Foreign Minister.
Within the Liberal Party wing of Likud, the fight between Commerce Minister Gideon Patt and
Energy Minister Yitzhak Modai over the commerce post — which is considered the more senior — has reportedly been resolved by Begin in favor of incumbent Patt. The Liberals are pressing that one of their six Knesset members, former Speaker of the Knesset Yitzhak Berman, be given ministerial responsibility for the Israel Broadcasting Law.
This is especially important as the new government is pledged to introduce a second TV and radio network — in addition to the state-controlled Israel Broadcasting Authority — within a short time. However, the NRP is balking at this demand. At present, Education Minister Zevulun Hammer of the NRP supervises the Broadcasting Authority Law.
MAJOR PUBLIC CONTROVERSY ERUPTS
Meanwhile, as the politicians haggle, a major public controversy has erupted over a leaked purported “secret agreement” between Aguda Israel and the prospective new Defense Minister, Ariel Sharon, over military service regulations.
According to reports filtering through the media yesterday, and not immediately denied, Sharon has agreed that yeshiva teachers, not just students, are to be exempted from duty in the reserves. In addition, “baalei teshuva” (young men who become religious) are to be exempted from duty in the reserves for a period of years.
These agreements have come under scathing criticism not only from the Labor Alignment opposition but also from within Likud where Knesset members have expressed open embarrassment. Aguda’s Knesset leader Avraham Shapiro denied today that the baalei teshuva arrangement was for a long-term exemption. All that his party has sought, Shapiro said, was “peace of mind” for the baalei teshuva during the “year to 18 months” of their “acclimatization shock.”
Shapiro refused to give figures for the yeshiva teachers’ exemption arrangement, but said Labor MK Yossi Sarid’s assertion that it would involve 7,000 young men was wildly inaccurate. Kol Israel Radio reported that Begin would meet with Sharon today “to ascertain from him the nature of his agreement with Aguda Israel.”
The Aguda’s Council of Sages was to meet in Bnei Brak tonight after a session was postponed from yesterday to discuss a “compromise proposal” from Begin on “Who is a Jew, ” whereby the coalition will undertake to amend the Law of Return within a fixed period. The precise period was not known earlier today. But Aguda Party sources expected the Council to approve the “compromise proposal.”
Political circles contend that Aguda politicians and rabbis are well pleased with financial undertakings made by Begin and Finance Minister Yoram Aridor to increase budgets for Aguda-linked yeshivot and other institutions.
NEW GOVERNMENT GUIDELINES
In terms of numbers of Cabinet ministers, the new government is expected to comprise eight Herut members, six Liberals, two NRP and one Tami. In terms of its “basic policy guidelines,” the formal document which every new government presents to the Knesset, observers have detected a significant difference on key policy issues between the second Begin Administration and the first. The new government’s guidelines say that Israel will “press its demand” for sovereignty over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip at the end of the five-year-autonomy period.
The previous government, in its basic guidelines, spoke of Israel’s “right” to sovereignty over these areas, but said the right would “not be applied so long as negotiations for peace” went on. This formulation was inserted in 1977 at the insistence of Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan.
Subsequently, in May 1979, the government adopted two “declarations” which said that Israel would claim sovereignty after the autonomy period and that Israel would not tolerate a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip under any circumstances. But these declarations were opposed in the Cabinet by Dayan, Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, Deputy Premier Yigael Yadin and one or two other moderates. None of these men are now in office and the new government will apparently feel free to make policy pronouncements without restraint.
In May 1979 the declaration was never submitted to the Egyptian autonomy negotiators as an official Israeli position because of the opposition of Dayan, Weizman and Yadin.