Though there is still time for last minute maneuvering, at
press time it appears that Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak of
the One Israel party will enjoy a broad coalition of 77
members, based on Shas as the second largest party and not
the Likud. Mafdal has already signed a coalition agreement.
Meretz is likely to be in, though officially they are waiting
to see the agreement that is reached with Shas before
deciding. Meretz asserted very categorically that it would
not sit with Shas both during the campaign and immediately
after the elections, and it may support the coalition from
the outside for a "cooling off period" before sitting with
Shas. They have made it clear that they will support Barak in
any case, and Barak has made it clear that he will save their
seats at the government table for them. Most observers think
that they will join right away.
Throughout the negotiations with the Likud, which lasted
through Monday, accusations were exchanged between the
temporary chairman of the Likud, Minister Ariel Sharon, and
the elected Prime Minster, Ehud Barak. Sharon accused Barak
of not conducting the negotiations with Likud with integrity,
but with the purpose of lowering the "price" of Shas. Barak's
office denies this charge.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the negotiating team of One
Israel met Monday night with the negotiating team of Shas, in
order to hammer out which portfolios Shas will receive in the
government, and the final details which still hadn't been
completed in the coalition agreement between he two sides.
Shas will receive the Labor and Welfare ministry (which they
had in the previous government), as well as the
Infrastructure and the Health portfolios. According to the
rule fixed by Barak of one minister to four MKs, Shas is
entitled to another ministry. There had been talk of
reorganizing the Infrastructure ministry, but Shas wanted
the Israel Land Administration and the Public Works
Department to be left within.
Shas also demanded to have full control over the Ministry of
Religious Affairs. However One Israel cannot fulfill this
demand due to its already signed agreement with the Mafdal
that it will have joint control of that Ministry. Shas
proposed to appoint a minister from Shas and the director
general from Mafdal, but this suggestion was not accepted.
Shas also asked for the Communications portfolio, as well as
deputy ministers in the Interior Ministry and the Education
Barak made contact between Minister Eli Yishai and the
chairman of the Mafdal, Minister Yitzchok Levi, asking the
two to come to terms regarding collaboration between Shas and
the Mafdal in the Religious Affairs Ministry. Monday night,
Levi and Yishai met together along with Barak in order to try
and find a solution to this problem.
After all of the details are finalized between Shas and One
Israel, the Moetzes Chachmei HaTorah of Shas will meet in
order to approve the conclusions and to authorize the heads
of the faction to sign the coalition agreement.
According to reports in the press, Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz said
that they two key issues for UTJ are a satisfactory
arrangement for yeshiva students, and complete autonomy for
the chareidi educational system. The latter is of particular
concern if, as appears likely, Yossi Sarid is the minister of
Education. UTJ is focusing in its negotiations on these
issues of principle and not on ministerial appointments. Some
reports say that UTJ would not even accept a deputy ministry
appointment in a government that includes Meretz and will
trade its support for commitments about the yeshiva draft and
So far, For now the only parties that have signed coalition
agreements with One Israel (26) are Yisrael Ba'aliya (6), the
NRP (5), and Meretz (10). Other signed agreements are
expected with the Center Party (6), UTJ (5), Am Echad (2),
and Shas (17). This would give Barak a coalition of 77 MKs,
well above the minimum of 61. The rabidly anti-religious
Shinui will not join a coalition with Shas.
At the time of writing, serious problems still exist with the
Center Party and Am Echad, but they cannot break the
coalition if it includes Shas, and will probably have to
accept what they are offered.