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Israeli Government Crisis Worsens As Shas Leader Submits Resignation

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The political crisis in Israel’s governing coalition escalated Sunday, when the head of the fervently Orthodox Shas party resigned from the Cabinet, in an apparent ploy to oust the leader of the dovish Meretz bloc from her post as education minister.

Under the law, Interior Minister Arye Deri’s resignation does not go into effect for 48 hours, giving Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin two days to shore up his teetering coalition, ostensibly by giving Education Minister Shulamit Aloni a different portfolio.

Rabin also must face a Knesset no-confidence motion Monday, introduced by right-wing parties unhappy with the government’s handling of the peace process.

The coalition crisis erupted last week when the Shas party warned Rabin it would pull its six Knesset members out of the government because the outspoken Aloni had crossed the line once too often in her verbal attacks against religion.

Shas believes Aloni’s many controversial statements have demonstrated a demeaning and insulting attitude toward religion and Judaism, and should be cause enough for her dismissal.

What touched off the party’s anger at Aloni this time around was her criticism of Rabin for being “fatalistic” by reciting the Shema Yisrael prayer at an anniversary commemoration last month for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

MERETZ MINISTERS BALK

If Shas does quit, the governing coalition would survive, but only by the thinnest possible margin. The move would make Rabin uncomfortably dependent on the Arab parties to maintain his majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

Shas wagered that Rabin would cede to its wishes rather than be put in that vulnerable position and thereby jeopardize the Middle East peace process.

Rabin met with Aloni on Sunday and was believed to have discussed alternative ministerial posts for her.

The ministers in Aloni’s Meretz bloc, who also met with Rabin on Sunday, emphatically rejected a ministerial shuffle that would remove Aloni from her post, though this was not believed to be the party’s final posture.

The party has chastised Rabin for giving in to Shas’ ultimatum and called on other parties to make sacrifices for the peace process.

Despite Shas maneuverings over Aloni, the party has not threatened to vote against the government in Monday’s no-confidence votes in the Knesset. Rabin scheduled a meeting with Deri late Sunday to persuade him to support the government during Monday’s debate.

While many observers expected the government to weather this crisis, Tourism Minister Uzi Baram of the Labor Party warned Sunday evening that the situation was more serious than Labor ministers had originally thought.

He said he was no longer sure Rabin would be able to save the coalition in the 48 hours he had before Deri’s resignation took effect.

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