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Agudat Yisrael Sides with Likud, Giving Shamir Probable Majority

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir appeared on the way Sunday night to forming a Likud-led government, just before his 21-day mandate to complete the task was to expire Monday.

Shamir was expected to ask President Chaim Herzog Monday morning for a 21-day extension, which he is allowed by law, to wrap up negotiations with his probable coalition partners, the ultra-Orthodox and far right-wing parties.

The stalemate that prevented Shamir from forming a government until now was broken Sunday evening when Agudat Yisrael’s Council of Sages decided to resist the blandishments of Labor and cast its lot with Likud.

Degel Ha Torah, an Agudah breakaway party that had been wavering for the past week, also announced it was concluding a deal with Likud.

With Degel’s two seats, Agudah’s five and the other religious and rightist factions in line, Shamir would have a governing majority of 65 in the 120-member Knesset.

The Agudah sages made their announcement after a six-hour meeting in Bnei Brak, where they had been visited first by Likud and later by Labor Party ministers.

Until then, uncertainty cast a pall over Israel’s political scene, as both Labor and Likud ardently courted the religious extremists, much to the disgust of some top figures in each party.

As the two major parties tried to outbid each other for the favor of the religious parties, serious internal cracks began to show in their leadership ranks.

Several key Likud ministers refused Sunday to add their signatures to a document outlining Likud’s undertakings to the Agudah. Similar rebellion was rife in Labor’s ranks.

But the dissent inside the Likud apparently did not deter Agudah from siding with the party.

In the end, the Agudah politicians made it clear that Likud’s pledges on the “Who Is a Jew” issue were more satisfactory than Labor’s.

But there were rumblings inside Likud on Sunday night, with several Knesset members insisting they would not support the Orthodox initiative.

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