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Behind the Headlines: Rightist, Religious Parties Seen Interested in Narrow-based Cabinet Under Sham

The rightist-religious coalition based on Likud and the Orthodox parties has become the main subject of speculation in Israel’s political community, following last week’s narrow defeat of religious-inspired legislation on conversion.

Political pundits say the lesson learned by Likud and the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, from the defeat of the “Who is a Jew” amendment and the similar attempt to amend the Religious Communities Ordinance in the Knesset last Wednesday, is that the present national unity coalition is not the best framework within which to achieve those goals.

The religious-backed measures fell because of small but crucial defections within Likud. Likud-Liberal MK Sarah Doron voted against the proposed amendment to the ordinance. Eliahu Ben-Elissar (Likud-Herut) deliberately absented himself from the chamber.

On the surface, Shas is still threatening to back Labor’s call for early elections if Likud is unable to deliver. But behind the scenes both Shas and Tehiya, the pivotal rightist-nationalist party also ostensibly toying with early elections, are said to be scheming how to force Premier Yitzhak Shamir to set up a narrow coalition.

UNDERSTANDING THE LOGIC

The logic is best understood from a remark made Wednesday by Likud-Liberal Uriel Linn. Linn voted against the “Who is a Jew” legislation but reluctantly supported the proposed amendment of the conversions ordinance.

He explained that if the fate of the government had been on the line, he was sure all Likud members would have dutifully maintained party discipline.

His implication was that since the Shas sponsored amendment was going to be defeated anyway, Doron’s and Ben-Elissar’s failure to support the conversions ordinance bill was excusable.

Shas now seeks to create a narrow-based government in which every vote would count.

Shamir is aware that the national unity government is still popular, and that in a narrow based government his Herut rivals would have more power than they do today. He is reluctant therefore to disturb the present tenuous arrangement in which Likud and Labor govern uneasily together.

The religious parties and Tehiya believe with growing confidence that they can force Shamir’s hand, and, together with such Knesset mavericks as Aharon Abu Hatzeira (Tami) and Yigael Hurwitz (Ometz), set up a narrow government which, they hope, would push through religious legislation and large new budgets for new settlements in Judaca and Samaria.

They want Shamir to resign. Failing that, they would vote no-confidence in the government and force him to do so. They would then urge the President, who by law must consult with all the Knesset factions, to select Shamir to form a new government.

With the help of Abu Hatzeira and Hurwitz, who have both recently signed deals with the Likud, and Shinui MK Zeidan Atshe, who is reportedly about to sign one, the Likud-religious bloc could amass a majority of 61.

SHAMIR UNDER PRESSURE

An indication that Shamir may be moving in this direction came Sunday night, at the Herut Central Committee meeting. He warned repeatedly that the way to protect the integrity of “Eretz Israel” is to ensure the survival of the present Knesset — in other words, to thwart Labor’s push for early elections.

Shamir seems ready now at least to contemplate ending the present partnership with Labor and creating in its place a Likud-religious alliance that would hold power until the end of the Knesset term in the fall of 1988.

Such combative trends on the right are matched by a perceptibly growing feeling within Labor that the party must withdraw from the government in order to salvage its standing and self-respect.

Shimon Peres, the party leader, rejected that course earlier this year, when it became clear that Shamir was successfully blocking his peace conference policy. There is now mounting pressure on the Labor leadership from rank-and-file Knesseters who are troubled by the steady decline of the party’s fortunes in the opinion polls.

The Laborites see that Shamir is determined to pursue a policy of undermining and discrediting Peres on the foreign relations front and in domestic affairs. On Monday, Shamir remarked off-handedly that the agreement that Peres worked out last week with the Druze villagers of Beit Jahn in their land-dispute with the Nature Reserves authority “does not commit the government.”

Since Shamir forever proclaims at home and abroad that Peres’ peace policy, too, does not commit the government, a situation is rapidly growing in which the Foreign Minister is being held up to public ridicule.

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