Arens Meets with Shas Leaders in Effort to Head off Breakup

Likud is trying anxiously to mollify its ultra-Orthodox coalition partners, who are furious over the preliminary passage of a Human Rights Bill in the Knesset last week.

Likud politicians are trying to keep them from bolting the government until Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir returns from abroad.

Shamir reportedly asked Foreign Minister Moshe Arens and other ranking Likud people to hold the line until he can exert his personal powers of persuasion.

Arens met Sunday with the leader of the Shas party, Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, who is minister of immigration and absorption.

Political sources said he and other Likud ministers are trying to reassure Shas that the measure will be steered back to the Ministerial Committee on Legislation for amendment.

Some say it could be “buried” in committee indefinitely.

The Shas Knesset faction said Thursday night it would recommend to the party’s Council of Sages that they meet to consider leaving the government as soon as Shamir returns.

It was Likud Knesset members, who joined with Laborites and members from center and leftwing factions, that gave the Human Rights Bill a smashing 53-19 kickoff on its first reading last Wednesday.

The Orthodox dislike the bill because their authority in religious and social matters might be diluted. What they find most troubling is the provision for a constitutional court which would probably invalidate much religious legislation.

The Agudat Yisrael party quit the coalition last week, claiming Shamir’s pledge to kill the measure was the latest in a series of broken promises by Likud to the ultra-Orthodox.

The defection of any or all of the four religious parties, which hold only 18 Knesset seats between them, would not affect the government as long as the Likud-Labor coalition holds.

But most pundits predict that partnership will not last much longer. Likud is determined to prevent Labor from putting together a narrow coalition government with the help of the religious parties.

Agudat Yisrael said it would consider joining Labor if the occasion arose.

Interior Minister Arye Deri of Shas said his party would not support a Labor-led regime.

The small Degel HaTorah party said over the weekend that it would coordinate its moves with Shas.

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