JERUSALEM (Jun. 28)
The process of building a governing coalition began in earnest Sunday, as Israeli President Chaim Herzog began legally mandated meetings with the 10 parties elected to the new Knesset.
The consultations, to determine which party has the best chance of forming a government, are this year a formality: Final election returns announced Friday show that Labor’s Yitzhak Rabin and the parties to his left have a decisive bloc of 61 seats. That is enough to head off any rightwing coalition in the 120-member parliament.
The modified results reflect the counting of the soldiers’ vote. They give Labor 44 seats, down one from the earlier estimates. Shas also lost a seat, by a mere 36 votes, bringing it down to six. The beneficiaries were Moledet and Tsomet, which each gained a seat, for a total of 3 and 8 respectively.
Herzog’s meetings will continue Monday, and he is expected to formally summon Rabin on Tuesday. Rabin will then have three weeks to assemble a coalition, with the possibility of an extension.
But the chairman of Labor’s parliamentary faction, Haim Ramon, said Sunday that the party hopes to present its coalition when the 13th Knesset convenes for its first session on July 13.
“All our prospective partners should take this into account,” Ramon warned. He added that if the coalition was not as broad as Labor hoped, Rabin would present a narrower one.
His remarks were part of the public posturing being played out as counterpoint to the political bargaining now under way behind closed doors.
RABIN HAS SEVERAL OPTIONS
Adding to the stakes in this year’s coalition poker, and to uncertainty among political pundits, is that Rabin can in theory form a coalition in any of several ways.
In a move designed to set one prospective coalition member at ease, Labor Secretary-General Micha Harish told reporters that the Meretz bloc was expected to be Labor’s natural partner.
Rumors had been circulating that the leftwing, anti-religious Meretz might be sidestepped to enable Labor to join with the ultra-Orthodox haredi parties, the rightwing and anti-religious Tsomet party, and even the rightwing National Religious Party.
Meanwhile, the Council of Sages of the haredi Shas party Sunday formally empowered the party’s Knesset members to enter into negotiations, thereby following the initial, hesitant step already taken by the Council of Sages of the Agudat Yisrael faction of the United Torah Judaism party.
Rabbi Eliezer Schach, the 96-year-old spiritual head of the shrunken Degel HaTorah faction of United Torah Judaism, still reportedly harbors hopes of a Labor-haredi-rightist coalition, excluding the “anti-Torah” Meretz party. But Schach’s influence has been greatly weakened as a result of the election.