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Poll Assesses Fate of Religious Parties in Israel’s Elections

The religious parties as a bloc will fare no better and no worse in nex? Monday’s Knesset elections than they have in previous elections, according to most polls published to date. But the traditional religious factions may be overshadow ed this time by the newly formed Shas party, a Sephard? list backed by former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, which could play a pivotal role in the formation of the next governing coalition.

Shas–an acronym for the Hebrew words “Sephardi Torah Guardians” — will win at least three Knesset mandates and possibly more, according to a poll published by the religious weekly, Erev Shabbat. The survey coved about 5,000 voters in 22 religious neighborhoods and townships where the Orthodox political parties derive the bulk of their support.

According to the poll, the Agudat Israel Party’s four mandates in the present Knesset will be reduced to thre. The more moderate National Religious Party with five seats, will suffer a loss of two to three.

Morasha, an NRP-Emunim-Poalei Aguda Israel breakaway faction, will win three mandates. But the Tami party, headed by former Welfare Minister Aharon Abu-Hatzeira, with three seats in the present Knesset, will be fortunate if it polls enough vates for one in the next, the poll showed.

This predicted shakeup in the religious sector means that whichever major party forms the next goverment will have to deal with Shas. Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres admitted in an interview this week that other leading Laborites “may have” contacted Shas on his behalf to propose coalition cooperation after the elections, Peres said he himself had made no overtures.

Peres was responding to the claim by Shas leader Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz that “Peres has offered me the Ministry of Religions in a Labor-led coalition” and that he had “rejected” the offer.

The feeling in Labor circles is that the fact Peretz saw fit to make the statement signified that he may eventually accept an offer to join a Laborled government and was preparing opinion within his faction for such a development.

Moreover, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef former Chief Sephardic Rabbi and the spiritual mentor of Shas, is a political “dove” and more likely to join with Labor than are the other religious parties.

Tami, which can be classified as religious –Abu Hatzeira was Minister for Religious Affairs in the first Likud-led government formed in 1977 –would seem to prefer Labor to Likud. But Tami is on the verge of dissolution if the polls are correct.

PROBLEM FACING LABOR IF IT WINS

The polls also show that while Labor is ahead of Likud–the margin varies almost from day to day — it is not likely to win sufficient Knesset mandates to form a government on its own or with one or two ideologically compatible allies.

Peres said in his interview that he wanted to include some of the religious parties in a broad-based coalition encompassing the leftist Shinui and the Civil Rights Movement.

A wild card in the elections is former Defense Minister Ezer Weizman’s new Yahad Party whose performance in the polls has varied widely. Yahad is more compatible with Labor than with Likud and according to some polls, a Labor-Yahad-Shinui-CRM coalition is within the realm of possibility.

Peres is on record as opposed to a Labor-Likud national unity government, an idea repeatedly raised by Premier Yitzhak Shamir. Shamir said in his own interview this week that a unity government was in the “national interest.” Significantly, he indicated that he would be agreeable to joining a Laborled unity government in which a Laborite, presumably Peres, would be Prime Minister. In the past, Shamir has spoken of a unity government headed by Likud, but according to the polls that is unlikely.

Shamir has argued that a national unity government alone could deal with Israel’s urgent economic crisis, keeping disputed foreign policy issues in abeyance. But Peres said this is not possible because Labor and Likud differ sharply on such key economic matters as the cost of keeping the Israel Defense Force in Lebanon and the heavy expenditures on settlements in the occupied territories.

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