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Rabin Seems Assured of Wider Coalition As Key Bill Progresses Through Knesset

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin moved an important step closer to broadening his fragile coalition government this week when a hard-fought piece of legislation was virtually assured of passage by the Knesset.

The fervently Orthodox Sephardic Shas party earlier this week had agreed to rejoin the Laborled government, but Shas had conditioned its return on the passage of a bill that would pave the way for banning the importation of nonkosher meat.

In mid-February, the bill passed a preliminary vote in the Knesset, and on Wednesday it appeared there were enough votes to ensure final passage.

The bill had initially been opposed by Rabin’s left-wing coalition partner, Meretz.

But Meretz — which had made a number of concessions to Shas before the Orthodox party left the coalition last fall — is now prepared for yet another concession in order to give the Rabin government the parliamentary support it needs to put the peace process firmly back on track.

Shas left the coalition when its political leader, former Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, was indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of public trust.

Also obliged to vote for the religious legislation, though from the opposition benches, were the other Orthodox parties, United Torah Judaism and the National Religious Party. Almost in spite of themselves, they thus made it possible for Rabin to widen his coalition before leaving for an important trip to the United States next week.

What is still not clear is whether Rabin will undertake additional negotiations to further broaden his governing coalition.

Earlier this week, he seemed on the brink of a serious breach with Meretz and members of his own Labor party over his negotiations with the right-wing Tsomet Party, which he had also been trying to woo into the coalition.

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