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Coalition Crisis Grows Uglier As Ministers Exchange Epithets

If Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin thought a two-week “timeout” in the coalition crisis would heal political wounds, he learned otherwise this week.

Warring Ministers Shulamit Aloni of the secularist Meretz bloc and Arye Deri of the Orthodox Shas party spent Wednesday morning shuttling from one radio station to another, exchanging verbal blows.

The ministers from the Labor Party’s two coalition partners announced, in effect, that their continued coexistence in the same government was becoming more and more difficult.

Aloni, in an understood reference to a corruption investigation involving Deri, noted that she had no police files, underwent no criminal investigation, had no financial mentors and did not own any villas.

Deri, returning the fire in a follow-up interview, said he was amazed how Aloni, the leader of a Meretz faction called the Civil Rights Movement, could smear him before he was convicted of any wrongdoing.

Deri is the subject of a police investigation into suspected financial misconduct in his capacity as interior minister.

The verbal confrontation became uglier and uglier, until Knesset member-Eli Dayan, chairman of the Labor Knesset faction, asked Rabin to intervene.

RABIN HOLDING 5 PORTFOLIOS

The prime minister reportedly was furious, suggesting that if the Meretz leader wanted to bring the present coalition to a narrow margin without Shas, she should say so clearly rather than creating an ugly confrontation.

The crisis started when Shas threatened to quit the coalition unless Aloni were removed from her post as education minister.

Under a compromise worked out last week, the Knesset on Wednesday approved giving Rabin both Aloni’s education portfolio and Deri’s interior portfolio, until the dispute is resolved.

Since legally, a ministry cannot exist without a minister, Rabin formally became the minister in charge of both. He was expected, however, to delegate his authority to others.

In addition to being prime minister, Rabin now is responsible for the Defense, Interior, Education and Religious Affairs ministries.

Addressing the Knesset, Rabin did not say how long the crisis would last.

Deri, adopting a new tactic, said he would not pressure Rabin to make any fast decision, as long as Aloni was not appointed minister of culture and communications, a promise Rabin had made to Aloni as part of a compromise proposal.

Meanwhile, Deri seemed content to remain in his new role as minister without portfolio for an extended period of time.

But Aloni said she would not allow this situation to go on for long. She said that her patience could hold out until next Monday, the original deadline Rabin had set to end the coalition crisis.

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