Rivalries Among Smaller Parties Could Topple Shamir Government

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s coalition government of right-wing and religious parties appeared to be in extremely shaky condition as the new year approached, and with it, the quadrennial Knesset elections mandated by law.

Elections must be held no later than November 1992. But Shamir’s government may not survive much beyond the final week of 1991.

If it falls, the failure will not stem from elemental conflicts over the peace process or the stagnant economy. It will lie instead in Shamir’s inability to continue to balance the conflicting interests of his small coalition partners and mediate the bitter rivalries among them.

The most serious threat emerged after the Knesset on Wednesday defeated, by a slim three-vote margin, a controversial private members’ bill that would have abolished “special funding” for the educational systems of the haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, parties.

The measure was co-sponsored by Avraham Poraz of the Center-Shinui Movement and Shevach Weiss of the Labor Party.

The funding issue put the haredi bloc on a collision course with the National Religious Party, which is also Orthodox but Zionist-affiliated.

The NRP demanded an end to the special treatment, even though its own schools benefit. It threatened otherwise to pull its five Knesset votes out of the coalition.

But if the funding ended, the three haredi parties, with 12 Knesset mandates among them, vowed they would leave the coalition.

Shamir and Finance Minister Yitzhak Moda’i intervened personally to resolve the crisis. After weeks of meetings, an agreement was reached to keep the funding but in a manner that would simplify its allocation.

ADDITIONAL MONEY FOR SETTLEMENTS

Moda’i is reported, with Shamir’s concurrence, to have offered the nationalist Tehiya and Moledet parties additional money for settlements in the administered territories if they opposed the bill, which they had originally supported.

The measure was defeated 59-56. Two NRP Knesset members supported it, however, and the other three did not vote.

The haredi bloc promptly accused the NRP of betrayal and announced Thursday that it was no longer bound by the agreement slated to be part of the 1992 state budget.

The NRP responded that it would not support the state budget, which the Knesset will vote on next week. Defeat of the budget bill could amount to a no-confidence vote forcing Shamir’s government to resign.

Even if the budget is passed, an NRP defection could abolish Shamir’s Knesset majority.

Earlier this week, he lost the two votes of the right-wing Tsomet faction after Likud decided to kill an electoral reform bill Tsomet backed.

That reduced the coalition to a still comfortable 64 votes in the 120-member parliament. But should Shamir lose the five NRP mandates, his government would control less than 50 percent of the Knesset.

The departure of Tsomet moreover may trigger defections by the far-right Tehiya and Moledet, with five more votes between them.

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