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Meretz and Shas Are Close to a Deal That Would Resolve Coalition Crisis

The crisis threatening the stability of Israel’s government appears to be close to resolution, with the ruling Labor Party’s two feuding coalition partners, Meretz and Shas, trimming their conflicting demands and inching toward a compromise.

The evolving deal, according to political insiders, will see Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni take over the Communications and Science ministries, and hold responsibility, too, for major areas of Israel’s cultural life.

These insiders say the accord would have been wrapped up before the Shavuot holiday had it not been for the tragic killing of four paratroopers by friendly fire in Lebanon on Monday Political activity virtually stopped as the country mourned these four young men.

Under the proposed accord, Aloni’s role as culture czar would give her responsibility for just one of the two state-run broadcasting authorities. The other would remain under the supervision of her presumed successor at the Ministry of Education and Culture, Amnon Rubinstein of Meretz.

In this way, the original demand by the Orthodox Shas party that the avowedly secularist Aloni be removed from the Education Ministry would be fulfilled.

Aloni would retain control over most areas of culture, along with her new posts at Communications and Science. But she would not have complete control over broadcasting, nor would she run areas of culture that could bring her into renewed dispute with the fervently Orthodox community.

EXACT TITLE NOT YET CLEAR

Still to be resolved is the issue of Aloni’s new title in the proposed Cabinet reshuffle.

Shas objects to her being called “minister of culture,” or, more accurately, “minister of communications, science and culture.”

The chairman of the Meretz Knesset faction, Ran Cohen, said that for his party the question is “not one of title or kavod (honor) — but of principle.” Labor, Shas and Meretz politicians were to conduct discreet consultations before the week’s end to settle this problem.

Shas’ concession came earlier in the drawn-out crisis: its consent to Rubinstein, another Meretz minister, as Aloni’s replacement at Education and Culture. At first, Shas insisted that this sensitive post be held by the Labor Party, not by the left-wing Meretz.

But Shas now says Rubinstein is more “traditional” in his lifestyle than Aloni and much less acerbic in his rhetorical style.

Aloni has infuriated the Shas party in recent months with a series of controversial statements seen by the Orthodox Sephardic party as antireligious.

The festering tension between the ideologically opposed parties culminated in Aloni’s public criticism of Rabin for having recited the Shema Yisrael prayer at the end of his speech last month at ceremonies commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

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