JERUSALEM (May. 31)
Israel’s Labor government has managed to overcome its latest and most serious coalition crisis by reshuffling Cabinet posts in order to satisfy its feuding junior partners.
On Monday, following a long day of last minute negotiations, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin presented the Knesset with a new allocation of Cabinet portfolios agreed upon as a solution to the crisis.
The government’s move triggered a ministorm in the Knesset, with the Likud-led opposition demanding a debate of the parliament’s confidence in the government, despite the fact that several Arab Knesset members were absent on account of the Moslem Feast of the Sacrifice.
The new Cabinet arrangements are meant to resolve the long-simmering rivalry between the Orthodox Shas party and the secular Meretz bloc, both of them coalition partners with Labor.
Shas’ primary demand has been to remove Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni from the Education and Culture Ministry. The party contends that Aloni’s frequent outbursts on religious matters, which have offended the Orthodox, are inappropriate for an official in that post.
Under the deal presented Monday, Aloni becomes minister-of-communications and minister of science, and also retains most of the responsibility for the Department of Culture within the Ministry of Education and Culture.
Aloni thereby retains control of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, but, in a concession to Shas, responsibility for Israel’s Channel 2 television station is to be transferred to Economic Planning Minister Shimon Shetreet of Labor, who formerly also held the science post that Aloni has inherited.
Aloni’s Meretz colleague Amnon Rubinstein replaces her as minister of education and culture, even though Aloni will handle most of the culture functions. Shas was determined that Aloni be stripped of her former title.
SHAS BLASTED FOR ‘SURRENDER’
Labor’s Moshe Shahal, until now minister of police and minister of communications, loses communications to Aloni, but becomes minister of energy, taking this portfolio from Rubinstein.
Finally, Meretz gains a second minister on the Cabinet Defense Committee — Absorption Minister Yair Tsaban will join Aloni — and a representative on the Cabinet’s Secret Services Committee: Environment Minister Yossi Sarid.
Sarid said ruefully Sunday night, following a special Cabinet meeting convened to formalize the deal, that this solution was probably available weeks ago. “But it is apparently in the nature of such crises that they are not resolved as quickly as they should be,” he said.
Sarid said he and his colleagues felt foolish for having had to devote time and energy to this issue for so long, when other, much more important questions faced the government.
Shas leader Aryeh Deri, who is minister of interior, said his party had “sought nothing for itself.” It had only demanded Aloni’s removal from the sensitive education and culture post.
Shas nevertheless came in for a blasting Monday from its rival Orthodox party, the United Torah Judaism Front. Yated Ne’eman, the newspaper of the Degel Ha Torah wing of that party, ran a banner headline asserting that Shas’ “disgusting surrender” had paved the way to a solution of the Cabinet crisis.
Shas had hoped Aloni’s removal from the Education and Culture Ministry could pave the way for United Torah to join the coalition. But this has not come about, at least not yet.
Some political observers predict, nevertheless, that if the Rabin coalition settles down and demonstrates stability, those factions within United Torah and Labor that favor the Orthodox party’s addition to the coalition will soon resume their discreet contacts.