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Trying to Form a Government: Shas Says It is ‘strongly Inclined’ to Join with Likud in a Coalition

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Likud’s hopes of forming a government rose today and Labor’s fell, when the new Sephardic Orthodox party Shas announced to the press and to Premier Yitzhak Shamir that it was “strongly inclined” to join with Likud in a coalition.

Shas’ four Knesset members met with Shamir in his office here, and the two sides decided to set up a joint committee to consider specific demands by Shas. Deputy Premier David Levy said later that as a result of Shas’ move, Likud was now clearly in a better position than the Labor Alignment to form a government and therefore President Chaim Herzog ougth to give Shamir the task of trying to do so.

Herzog is expected to start his statutory negotiations towards the end of the week. He will be presented with the official election results by Justice Gabriel Bach on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The counting of the soldiers’ vote last Thursday, in addition to the civilian, showed that Labor won 44 seats in last week’s elections and Likud won 41. It also showed that Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach Party, which received one percent in the civilian sector, won 2.5 percent in the army. Kahane, after two previous unsuccessful bids to win a Knesset seat, won one seat last week. (See related story.)

Likud leaders pointed out today that with Shas’ support, their bloc now musters 52 mandates (Likud, Tehiya, Morasha and Shas) against Labor’s 50 (Labor, Shinui and the Citizens Rights Movements).

HOPING FOR A ‘DOMINO’ PROCESS

More importantly, the Likud is hoping that Shas’ decision will provoke a “domino” process among the religious parties. There were signs of this today when National Religious Party leader Yosef Burg, who earlier had been reported as favoring Labor, said his party was “for the moment” aligned with Likud, as it had been for the past seven years.

The move by Shas was a disappointment but not a surprise to Labor. Leaders of the Labor Alignment who had met with the Shas Knesset members last week came away frankly shocked by their extremism and the inexperience they showed in political matters. One of their demands, it is reliably understood, was for the release of the members of the Jewish terrorist underground in Judaea and Samaria, currently awaiting trial on charges of murder and conspiracy.

Labor’s negotiators encountered a far more urbane and moderate attitude on the part of Shas’ spiritual leader, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. But the Laborites wondered from the outset to what extent Yosef actually controls the new party.

Sources inside the Orthodox camp attribute Shas’ decision today not to Yosef, but rather to the aged Bnei Berak Rabbi Eliezer Shach, leader of the “Lithuanian” wing of Agudat Israel, who openly support Shas against Aguda in the elections. Shas activists admit that Shach’s support accounted for at least one and possible two of the party’s four Knesset seats. The four Shas MKs met with Shach last week and he apparently guided them towards Likud for reasons that are still not clear. (Politically, Shach is an ultra-dove.)

Labor apparently has not given up all hope of wooing Shas. Former President Yitzhak Navon was scheduled to call on Yosef tonight.

YAHAD PARTY REMAINS PIVOTAL

Shas’ decision today was announced outside the Premier’s office by its Knesset leader Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz only minutes after the MKs had sat in at a meeting between Yosef and Ezer Weizman, the leader of the pivotal Yahad Party which won three seats in the Knesset. Weizman apparently had been told nothing of Shas’ decision.

It was not clear, as the day wore on, how that decision would affect Weizman and his close ally in these coalition maneuvers, Aharon Abu Hatzeira, the leader of the Tami which won one seat in the Knesset.

The secretariats of both parties met in Tel Aviv, and neither made unequivocal decisions. Earlier, Labor had hoped that Yahad and Tami would clearly announce a preference for a Labor-led government. But both parties apparently prefer to bide their time, especially in light of Shas’ move.

There were reports tonight that Weizman and Tami are trying to set up a “bloc,” along with the NRP and Yigael Hurwitz’s one-man Knesset faction, Courage to Cure the Economy, which advocates tough economic measures, that would hold out for a unity government. Israel Radio reported that NRP’s Minister Zevulun Hammer, vacationing abroad, had declared himself in favor of such a bloc.

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