The fervently Orthodox Shas Party has announced that it will not rejoin the governing coalition of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
In a letter sent last Friday explaining the decision, the spiritual leader of Shas, former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, cited Israel’s deteriorating security situation as the reason Shas would not return to the Labor-led coalition.
“We had always aspired to peace, even in return for painful concessions,” Yosef said in the letter. “But the security situation now is insufferable.
“This is not the peace for which we prayed.”
Shas sources said there was still a possibility they would rejoin the coalition. Shas political leader and former Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said his party’s move did not mean it would automatically vote with the opposition.
Shas left the coalition more than a year ago when Deri was indicted on charges of fraud, bribery and breach of public trust. Deri is currently standing trial on the charges.
Since then, Shas has neither joined the opposition nor returned to the government fold.
Shas has usually supported the government in crucial votes, particularly those relating to the peace process or when no-confidence motions have been brought before the Knesset.
Rabin is expected to reassign the tow ministerial portfolios that had previously been held aside for Shas.
The two portfolios-the Religious Affairs and Interior ministries-were expected to go to ministers who would act as caretaker, a move that would leave the door open for future negotiations between Labor and Shas.
Shas’ decision came hours before the High Court of Justice handed down a ruling on a controversial agreement Rabin had made with Shas last year as part of the effort to get it to rejoin the coalition.
A special panel of five justices criticized the agreement, calling it legal but highly improper. But the court decided not to intervene in the matter, saying it should be determined in the political arena, not in the courtroom.
The judge had criticized a clause in the agreement stating that if the religious status quo were violated-by a High Court ruling, example-legislation would be enacted to restore it. One of Shas’ conditions for rejoining the coalition had been a guarantee that the status quo would prevail on religious issues.
The justices said the wording of the clause made it appear that the government would, through the use of legislation, automatically reverse any court rulings affecting religious matters.