JERUSALEM (Mar. 15)
The Knesset no-confidence vote that toppled Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s government Thursday could signal the end of the Likud bloc’s 13-year political alliance with the Orthodox parties.
It was defections from the ultra-Orthodox Shas and Agudat Yisrael parties that deprived Likud of the votes needed to quash a no-confidence motion submitted by the Labor Party.
Agudat Yisrael sided with Labor to bring the government down, and all but one of the six Shas ministers stayed away from the vote, on the orders of the party’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
The 60-55 vote came shortly before 9 p.m., at the end of a long day of parliamentary debate and behind-the-scenes negotiations. It marked the first time an Israeli government had fallen as a result of a Knesset no-confidence motion.
The political community immediately turned its attention to the prospects of forming a new government.
Under Israeli law, Shamir remains at the helm of a Likud-led caretaker government while President Chaim Herzog consults with each of the parties to determine which has the best chance of assembling a governing coalition.
Once Herzog makes a decision, the lucky party will have three weeks to put together a government. If the president concludes that no party can muster a governing majority, he will call new elections.
Rabbi Yosef’s decision to order the Shas ministers not to take part in the no-confidence vote followed last-minute negotiations at his Jerusalem home involving Shamir and Labor leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. The conciliation effort apparently failed when Shamir refused to accept Yosef’s attempted compromise proposal: that he restore Peres and the other Labor ministers to the Cabinet immediately and accept, within one week, the American proposal for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Labor, in turn, would have to withdraw its no-confidence motion and support the principle that the Palestine Liberation Organization should not become involved in the peace process.
The key figure in persuading Shas to desert Likud was Interior Minister Arye Deri, who has never hidden his own personal preference for Labor.
At midday Thursday, Deri declared that Labor had accepted the Yosef compromise and that it was now up to Likud to do the same. Deri threatened publicly over the radio that he would “change the decision” of the Shas Council of Sages if Likud spurned the proposal.
But Shamir, under pressure from the hardline wing of Likud, could not give the required commitment that Israel would respond affirmatively to the U.S. plan.
Shas’ minister of absorption, Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, did attend the vote, and he supported the government, which earned him warm thanks from the Likud side. But his vote alone could in no way restore the damage done by the absence of his five party colleagues.
Earlier in the day, much of the attention was focused on another ultra-Orthodox party, the two-seat Degel HaTorah faction. But in the end, Degel sided with the government “regretfully,” as party leader Avraham Ravitz put it when he announced his roll-call vote.
The more moderate-Orthodox National Religious Party also voted en bloc to preserve the government.
But two of its five members, Cabinet Minister Avner Shaki and Knesset member Yigal Bibi were pleased enough with the outcome to congratulate Peres after the government had fallen.
It would now appear that Labor’s prospects of ruling with the help of the Orthodox parties are better than at any time since Menachem Begin swept Likud into power in 1977, after 29 years of Labor-led governments.