Shas is big winner in Cabinet grab


JERUSALEM, March 5 (JTA) – Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon is expected to present his new government for Knesset approval on Wednesday, after the fervently Orthodox Shas Party signed a coalition agreement that gives Sharon a parliamentary majority.

With the Likud, Labor, Shas, the immigrant-rights Yisrael Ba’Aliyah and the far-right National Union- Israel, Our Home factions on board, Sharon is ensured a majority of at least 67 members of the 120-seat Knesset.

If Dalia Rabin-Pelossof, a member of the almost-defunct Center Party, becomes a deputy defense minister, as is being reported, Sharon’s coalition would grow to 68.

Likud Party negotiators were continuing contacts with smaller parties and individual Knesset members.

Sunday’s terrorist bombing in Netanya, which killed three Israelis and wounded 65, was widely seen as pushing Shas to enter the government.

Following the attack, Shas chairman Eli Yishai joined the coalition discussions, saying the security situation required the formation of a unity government as quickly as possible.

Prior to the presentation of the government, the Knesset is due to vote on three important pieces of legislation: next year’s budget, which must receive final approval by the end of March; a bill to repeal the direct election system for prime minister; and portions of a bill regarding draft deferrals for yeshiva students.

Likud officials hope that, with coalition talks mostly wrapped up, a majority in the Knesset will support the budget.

Likud and Shas failed to reach agreement on the bill to cancel the direct election system. Shas wants to keep the system – which has allowed smaller parties to flourish – and so will try to block the Likud from assembling a majority.

On Monday, Likud reached agreement with Labor to repeal the direct election system, according to Ha’aretz. Since several smaller parties – including Meretz, the members of the Center Party, United Torah Judaism and Hadash – the bill now has enough votes to pass.

On the yeshiva draft issue, Shas demanded that Sharon extend the current draft arrangement – which allows deferrals for yeshiva students as long as they remain in their seminaries – as a condition for its entry into the government.

Shas managed to achieve a significant number of its demands in the coalition talks. It will receive five ministerial posts, including the powerful Interior Ministry for Yishai, who also will serve as deputy prime minister.

Shas also will control the Labor and Welfare, Religious Affairs and Health Ministries. The fifth minister will be minister for Jerusalem affairs.

Shas also will receive three deputy ministerial posts. Among them will be a deputy education minister to oversee Shas’ private school network, control of which was a fatal bone of contention between the Shas and Meretz parties in the government of outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

The Likud also agreed to create a religious broadcasting authority that will operate out of the Religious Affairs Ministry, which likely will result in the legalization of Shas’ pirate radio stations.

However, Sharon refused Shas’ request for control over the Civil Service Commission, the State Companies Authority and a representative on the Judicial Appointments Committee.

Sharon’s other major coalition partner, Labor, will hold eight Cabinet positions, including the ministries of Foreign Affairs; Defense; Transportation; Agriculture; Industry and Trade; and Science, Culture and Sport.

Two Laborites will serve as ministers without portfolio, including Druse Knesset member Saleh Tarif, Israel’s first Arab minister.

Knesset member Avigdor Lieberman of the immigrant Israel, Our Home Party, is expected to serve as

national infrastructure minister.

Sharon’s generosity toward his coalition partners has led to rumblings of discontent within Likud, which sees many of the plum posts going to others.

Israeli media speculated this week that possible appointments for Likud Knesset members include: Limor Livnat for the Public Security Ministry; Silvan Shalom to Finance; Meir Sheetrit for Education; Tzipi Livni to Justice; either Reuven Rivlin or Uzi Landau as minister of environment; and Danny Naveh as minister without portfolio, serving as a liaison between the Knesset and the Cabinet.

However, Livnat told Israel Radio that nothing had been promised to her.

The radio also reported Monday that the Likud had offered Yisrael Ba’Aliyah the Immigrant Absorption Ministry and either Justice or Communications.

Contacts also are continuing with the National Religious Party, which protests that Sharon’s offer of the Housing Ministry is not enough.

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