JERUSALEM (May. 10)
Shulamit Aloni agreed Monday to step down from her post as education minister, but it was not immediately clear whether the proposed Cabinet reshuffle would prevent Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s center-left coalition government from collapsing.
The government, meanwhile, survived three no-confidence motions in the Knesset on Monday, but not without a raucous debate that many described as the stormiest in years.
Rabin asked for Aloni’s resignation in an attempt to prevent the fervently Orthodox Shas party from leaving his coalition as it threatened to do Sunday when its chairman, Aryeh Deri, resigned his post as interior minister.
Shas is upset over a string of remarks made by the outspoken education minister that have offended the Orthodox communities in Israel. Most recently she disparaged Rabin’s recitation of the Shema Yisrael prayer at last month’s commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
But Rabin also cannot afford to alienate Aloni, who heads the left-wing Meretz bloc, which controls an even larger bloc of votes in the Knesset than Shas does.
Under the law, Deri’s resignation does not take effect until Tuesday, and Rabin was scrambling to put together a deal before then that would be acceptable to all parties. He said he would convene a special Cabinet meeting Tuesday to announce the reshuffling of ministerial portfolios.
But as word of the proposed compromise leaked out Monday, there were immediate grumblings from both Shas and Meretz. Pessimists in the Labor Party said it remained unclear whether the prime minister would succeed in preventing Deri from quitting.
Under Rabin’s proposed deal, Aloni would step down from the education post but remain as minister of culture, a post now considered to be part of the education portfolio. In addition, she would pick up the communications portfolio now held by Moshe Shahal of Labor.
Shahal would stay on as police minister and pick up the energy portfolio currently held by Amnon Rubinstein of Meretz, who, in turn, would replace Aloni as education minister.
BOTH SIDES REJECT DEAL
The deal would leave the Education Ministry in the hands of the secularist Meretz bloc and would leave Aloni in control, as communications minister, of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, the parent body of state television and radio.
Deri said Shas could not possibly accept such an arrangement, which would be tantamount to “giving the cherries in the cake” to Aloni.
Meretz also initially rejected the formula, saying that the party deserved additional concessions for agreeing to have its leader assume a lower-profile post. It demanded, among other things, that a third Meretz minister be added to the “inner Cabinet” of senior ministers dealing with national security matters.
Despite the objections, Rabin said he was determined to present the new ministerial assignments to the Cabinet on Tuesday, whether or not Shas decided to remain in the government.
If Shas did quit, the 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.
The government’s Knesset majority was challenged Monday, when the opposition Likud, Tsomet, National Religious Party and United Torah Judaism Front submitted no-confidence motions against Rabin’s handling of the security situation and the Middle East peace process.
The six Knesset members of Shas stayed away from the vote, but only after making sure the government would survive it without them.
In the end, the motions were defeated by a vote of 56-47, but not before a turbulent debate in which Knesset Speaker Shevach Weiss expelled three Likud lawmakers and one NRP member from the Knesset chamber because of their heckling.
RABIN LOSES HIS PATIENCE
Weiss at one point threatened to adjourn the session altogether if the “hooliganism” continued.
Knesset member Gonen Segev of the right-wing opposition Tsomet party drew angry protests from Knesset member Abdel Wahab Darawshe from the Arab Democratic Party, after having decried the fact that the government was now dependent upon Arab Knesset members. Darawshe retorted by calling Segev a racist.
Rabin lost patience with the continuous disruptions by the opposition, at one point responding to a Knesset member’s remark by exclaiming, “What an idiot.”
But on a more serious note, the prime minister spoke proudly of the “fruits” of his 5-week-old closure of the administered territories. He argued that it had not only brought about an improvement in the security situation, but had reeducated Israelis about the value of menial work, which had previously been relegated to the Arabs.
He said the opposition had no grounds for complaining about the security situation, since nobody had been killed in Israel proper since the territories had been sealed off.
Rabin also said that, contrary to news reports last week, a proposed Palestinian police force would not be established before the implementation of an interim agreement on autonomy in the territories.
“If the Palestinians want to organize a nucleus of a Palestinian police force in Jordan or in Egypt, it is their business,” he said.