JERUSALEM (May. 23)
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has won another week’s grace to resolve the ongoing political crisis caused by feuding between his two junior coalition partners.
The Labor Party’s two allies in the ruling coalition, the secularist Meretz bloc and the fervently Orthodox Shas party, agreed Sunday to put off again a deadline for settling the crisis by one week — the second such postponement secured by Rabin.
Meretz said it would give Rabin the extra week to try to come up with more compromise solutions. But if the failed, the left-wing bloc would insist that the prime minister honor an earlier pledge to appoint Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni as Minister of Communications and Culture.
The crisis began when Shas, offended by statements made by Aloni that it perceived as anti-religious, demanded that she be removed from her previous post as minister of education. She also was in charge of the culture portfolio.
But Shas now says it also objects to Aloni’s retaining control over the culture department, especially if that means that she will control all or most of the government-owned electronic media.
Rabin met alone with Aloni before Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting and won her agreement to the additional one-week reprieve. The two agreed to meet again later in the week.
In the meantime, both Aloni and Shas leader Aryeh Deri — minister of the interior until the crisis broke out — remain ministers without portfolio, since they formally deposited their portfolios in the hands of the prime minister.
This move was agreed upon as an interim measure designed to give Rabin more time to solve the crisis.
Shas has apparently said it would accept a resolution in which the education and culture portfolios are held by Meretz’s Amnon Rubinstein, considered by Shas to be less stridently anti-religious than Aloni.
Aloni, though, would have to be given another senior post. Shas would have no problem with Aloni as foreign minister or in another senior position that would be non-controversial.
Rabin, however, is loath to give Aloni foreign affairs since this would mean moving the current foreign minister, Shimon Peres, to defense — which Rabin wishes to keep holding himself.
Shas, which had been threatening to quit to coalition, says the need to solve the crisis is no longer urgent from its point of view, since Aloni is out of the education ministry.
Now that Rabin has won a reprieve from Meretz too, political observers feel that the two junior partners’ evident desire to maintain the present coalition lineup will eventually enable Rabin to find a way out of the crisis.