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Political Jockeying Peaks in Israel As Deadline for Filing Lists Arrives

A classic of Israeli political folklore concerns the leaders of three haredi parties who reached agreement shortly before elections to run as a joint list.

They enter a taxi in Tel Aviv bound for the Knesset building in Jerusalem to file their list with the Central Elections Committee. When they get there, however, the three emerge red-faced with rage and proceed to file separate lists.

The lesson is that political alliances in Israel are too fragile even to survive a one-hour drive, and it applies by no means only to the ultra-Orthodox.

But they were in the limelight this week as the Tuesday midnight deadline approached for filing party slates for the June 23 elections.

Marathon negotiations continued in the religious township of Bnei Brak late Monday night where two venerable sages had been trying for weeks to reach an agreement that would merge the Hasidic Agudat Yisrael and the Mitnagged Degel HaTorah parties.

Rabbi Eliezer Schach, Degel’s 96-year-old mentor, and Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Alter of Agudat Yisrael were deadlocked over Degel’s demand for a 50-50 split of power and patronage in party institutions, though it was willing to accept the second and fifth spots on a joint election slate.

Their bargaining was complicated by suspicions.

Two weeks ago, another haredi figure, Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, who serves as absorption minister and is a disciple of Rabbi Schach, announced he would start a new religious party called Moriah, which would run independently.

Since that announcement, Peretz and his rabbinical mentor, Schach, came under ferocious pressure from all the other haredi parties to back down.

NRP JOLTED BY LEVINGER BID

There was a sigh of relief when Peretz announced last week that he was abandoning the idea of a new party and would retire from politics to devote his time to Torah study.

But many observers suggested that having experienced the political high life, and plainly developing a taste for it, he may yet find a way to hang on, perhaps on the joint Agudah-Degel list.

If all is not well among the haredim, it is not much better among the Zionist Orthodox.

Their veteran party, the National Religious Party, was jolted last week when Rabbi Moshe Levinger, a firebrand leader of the Gush Emunim settlement movement, announced he would run at the head of his own party.

Levinger said he hoped to bring about a fusion of Moledet and Tehiya, two mixed religious-secular parties on the far right. If he fails, he said, he will go it alone.

Either way, the news is bad for NRP.

Levinger, though a controversial figure, has a large following among the religious settlers in the West Bank, precisely the group whose loyalty NRP has been trying to retain by constantly redrafting its own election platform to meet the demands of its hard-line wing, led by Hanan Porat.

They include the immediate annexation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and renunciation of the Camp David accords.

The sharp disagreements in Israeli politics are not always limited to words. A scuffle on the fringe of a crowd listening to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in Petach Tikva on Saturday night was the first display of violence in the election campaign.

Likud loyalists clashed with supporters of the Labor Party and the left-wing Meretz bloc.

DOZENS OF NEW PARTIES

Meanwhile, political jockeying reached a peak shortly before the midnight Tuesday deadline for filing party lists with the Central Election Committee.

Aharon Abuhatzeira and his Tami faction have petitioned Likud’s Court of Honor to force the party to honor its 1990 agreement with Tami.

Abuhatzeira claims he was promised 12th place on the Likud election list and a "safe" spot for a second Tami man. He has threatened to sue in the district court if he does not get satisfaction from the party.

Meanwhile, a long line of splinter parties and individuals formed outside the Central Election Committee offices Monday and Tuesday, each clutching the required 1,500 signatures and 23,000 shekels in cash — about $9,600 — the fee for filing their candidacy for the 13th Knesset.

The fee is forfeited if the list fails to scale the threshold for gaining a seat, which this year is 1.5 percent of the total vote. About 2.2 million votes are expected to be cast next month, which means a list must poll about 42,000 votes to enter the Knesset, almost double the number required in the last elections.

Some unexpected names have cropped up in equally unexpected places.

Mayor Eli Landau of Herzliya occupies the second spot on the list of Yitzhak Moda’i’s new Liberal Party.

Moda’i, who is finance minister in the outgoing government, was dropped by Likud. Landau, a member of the Likud Executive Committee, subsequently resigned from the party.

After 22 years in Likud, Landau said, he thinks the party is on the wrong track. Landau, like another popular Likud mayor, Shlomo Lahat of Tel Aviv, has grown more dovish over the years.

He said Monday he would better be able to work for peace within Moda’i’s new party. The finance minister is a "gifted man," Landau told reporters.

SHAKDIEL JOINS BITON’S PARTY

Another new name is Leah Shakdiel, a dovish religious activist from Yeroham, who appeared unexpectedly in the No. 2 spot on Charlie Biton’s new Hatikvah list.

Shakdiel formerly belonged to the Labor Party and was touted as a candidate of Meretz. Surprisingly, she joined forces with the Biton, formerly a Black Panther, more recently a Hadash Communist and most recently an independent member of Knesset.

The upcoming elections may also be graced by a taxi-drivers’ party, a Nature Party dedicated to harmony between man and his environment and a list called Tzippor (Bird) led by a peanut wholesaler.

The Temple Mount Faithful, who believe in rebuilding the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, also filed a list.

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