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Role of Agudat Israel Looms Large in Efforts to Form New Government

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Agudat Israel, the two-man Orthodox faction in the Knesset, became the focus of intense political attention today. Premier Yitzhak Shamir met with the two Aguda MKs, Avraham Shapira and Menachem Porush at his office in Jerusalem hours after Israel Radio reported that Aguda’s former member of the Knesset, Shlomo Lorincz, had met secretly last night with Labor’s Premier-designate Shimon Peres.

Lorincz, who was dropped from the party’s Knesset list in last month’s elections at the insistence of some Aguda Council of Sages members, is still reputedly the most powerful single politician in the party, with important influence over its spiritual leader, Rabbi Eliezer Schach of Benei Berak.

Schach is a key figure not only because of his sway in Aguda, but also because he has spiritual authority over the fledgling Shas Sephardic Orthodox faction which won four Knesset seats in the July elections.

According to well-informed politicial sources, Aguda was close to striking an accord with Labor a week after the elections — when Lorincz and Schach stepped in to stop it. Porush and Shapira are known to be closer to Labor than to Likud, but Lorincz, who served as chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee for the seven years of the Likud administration, is staunchly supportive of Likud.

It may therefore have been of some significance that Lorincz met with Peres, which Israel Radio described as secret. Shamir, for his part, was anxious today to ensure the Aguda’s position, declining to join a Labor-led narrow government, is maintained.

Meanwhile, Peres, who was given a 21-day extension yesterday by President Chaim Herzog to form a government, said a great deal of progress had been made in the first 21 days and agreement “in principle” had been reached with Likud on several issues, namely, the economic and religious issues, on Lebanon and on continuation of the momentum for peace. Peres said yesterday, “I’m hopeful that in the coming three weeks that a government will be formed.”

Late today a Labor source told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the Peres-Lorincz meeting had produced no progress in terms of Aguda’s possible readiness to help Labor set up a narrow government. The source said Lorincz “did not slam the door,” and there would be further contacts, but there was no cause for encouragement.

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