TEL AVIV (Jul. 9)
Labor Party leader Yitzhak Rabin signed coalition agreements Thursday with the Meretz and Shas parties, giving him a governing majority in the Knesset.
The United Torah Judaism bloc was expected to join the coalition by midday Sunday, and it looked as if Tsomet would climb aboard as well.
In any case, it is now clear that Rabin will be able to present a government to the new Knesset when it convenes for the first time Monday afternoon.
With Meretz and Shas, Labor now has a bare majority of 62 in the 120-seat Knesset. But it can also rely on tacit support from the two Arab parties, which together hold five seats.
Tsomet would give Rabin an additional eight seats, and United Torah Judaism would add four more, If both parties join, Labor will be able to govern by a comfortable 74-seat majority, ensuring no one party can bring down the government.
But Tsomet’s chances of joining the coalition shifted from “definite” to only “probable” Thursday, when a major squabble erupted between Rabin and Tsomet leader Rafael Eitan over the Education portfolio.
Eitan told a television interviewer Thursday night that Rabin had specifically told him Tuesday his receiving the post would be “no problem.”
But in the end, Meretz pressured Rabin to award the portfolio to its leader, Shulamit Aloni.
Shas is to retain Interior and is expected to hold two deputy ministerships: one in Education and the other in the Economic Planning Ministry.
Formal contacts with United Torah Judaism were set back because of the death Wednesday of the Gerrer rebbe. But the spiritual leader of the party’s Degel HaTorah component came out strongly against Aloni holding the Education post, though other party politicians made it clear that this was not to be taken as an ultimatum.
The National Religious Party, meanwhile, reiterated Thursday that it would not join the government because of differences over settlement policy. NRP leaders Zevulun Hammer and Avner Shaki met with Rabin at noon.
Political observers cautioned, nevertheless, that this might not be the party’s last word and that even if NRP does not join the coalition now, it may do so further down the road.
The party has been a part of every government since the establishment of the state.