JERUSALEM (Oct. 29)
The National Religious Party has put Likud and Labor on notice that neither should attempt to revise the agreements governing their broad coalition in order to reap political benefits with its smaller members.
The stern warning by NRP’s secretary-general, Yitzhak Levy, indicated growing concern over political maneuvers motivated by the precarious state of the unity government.
Likud and Labor are each trying to forestall attempts by the other to lay the groundwork for a narrowly based coalition, in the event that their partnership founders over the peace issue. Many observers believe that prospect is increasingly likely.
The NRP seemed to be reacting Sunday mainly to Likud’s swift response to an ultimatum issued last week by Agudat Yisrael’s Council of Sages.
Leaders of the ultra-Orthodox party declared their intention to pull out of the government in two weeks unless Likud, the senior coalition partner, implements pledges Agudah said were made to it in coalition negotiations last December.
Political commentators say the purported pledges could cost the Treasury $10 million or more in subsidies to ultra-Orthodox educational institutions.
SHAS BACKS RETURNING TERRITORY
Agudah also is demanding stricter enforcement of Sabbath observance and legislation to ban street advertisements it considers immodest.
A team of Likud ministers is about to open talks on these matters with Agudah. The delegation is headed by Moshe Nissim, a minister without portfolio, and Justice Minister Dan Meridor.
The Labor Party has not indicated whether it will act similarly.
Agudah and the NRP each hold five Knesset seats. The departure of either or both of them from the coalition would have little impact as long as the unity government remains intact, since Likud and Labor combined hold 79 of the 120 Knesset seats.
But such an exodus could bring the shaky edifice tumbling.
In that case, the religious parties, which have expressed disenchantment with Likud, might be willing partners in a new, narrowly based coalition headed by Labor Party leader Shimon Peres.
Likud received an additional setback over the weekend, when Absorption Minister Yitzhak Peretz, the usually hard-line leader of the ultra-Orthodox party Shas, took a position on territorial concessions close to that of Labor, but vehemently opposed by Likud.
Peretz said he and his party would consider an Israeli return of part of the administered territories in the context of a real peace agreement with the Palestinians.
He reiterated the halachic ruling of his party’s spiritual mentor, former Israeli Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, that “pikuach nefesh” (the saving of lives) takes precedence over retaining all of Eretz Yisrael, the biblical Land of Israel.