Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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9 Nissan 5764 - March 31, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Politica: Shas and Sharon Drawing Closer?

By E. Rauchberger

Last week Ariel Sharon reached what every Prime Minister with coalition trouble yearns for: a recess. For one month he won't have to wheedle for votes or deal with rebellious MKs, threats and no-confidence votes.

Though the coalition did not appear very viable at the outset, throughout the long winter session the opposition proved unable to post any real achievements. In a last-ditch effort to post some accomplishment Shas submitted a no- confidence motion. Knowing that at least 20 coalition MKs would be absent from the vote, the opposition hoped to score a public relations victory. Toppling the government, which requires a majority of 61 MKs, was highly unlikely, to put it mildly.

The coalition heads probably got little rest the night before the no-confidence vote but Sharon may have lost more sleep over other matters, for that night IDF helicopters were stalking Sheik Ahmed Yassin. In the morning the Knesset woke up to a whole new reality. Yassin was no more and Hamas was [again] threatening revenge.

The coalition quickly recognized the opportunity and asked Shas to rescind its no-confidence motion as a show of support for the government following the daring assassination. Shas wavered, but eventually acceded to the request.

According to some observers Sharon is trying to thaw relations with Shas and Shas is responding. Sharon knows the withdrawal of the NRP and HaIchud HaLeumi could be imminent, and when the time comes he'll have to make changes in the coalition. The Labor Party is the most obvious choice but Shas is also a possibility, as unrealistic as it may seem to seat Shas and Shinui in the same coalition. The official reason for the recent meeting between Sharon and Party Chairman Eli Yishai was to brief Shas on the disengagement plan, but clearly Sharon had other intentions as well. His son Omri Sharon, considered the most powerful figure in the Likud and the political apparatus--certainly in the area of political appointments--met with Yishai to ascertain how to satisfy Shas' yearning for appointments to the religious councils.

Sharon is a full-time politician. Everything he does is calculated. He may be warming up to Shas just to lower Labor's demands, but based on the withdrawal of the no- confidence motion and efforts to rein in its MKs' more acerbic attacks against Sharon and the government, Shas seems to enjoy being wooed. If Sharon is indicted, all bets are off.


At a recent press conference called by Gidon Saar the coalition chairman said bringing the Labor Party into the coalition would be a big mistake. Resuscitating the dying party would place the key to setting the date for the next elections in the palm of the leading opposition party's hand. Based on simple math he's right.

Asked again and again what his preference would be in the event of an NRP and HaIchud HaLeumi withdrawal, Saar refused to comment. All he would say is that any alternative would be better. He said setting up a minority government was entirely out of the question, nor was he willing to consider the possibility of early elections. So what remains other than Shas and perhaps UTJ as well?

Asked about the possibility of bringing Shas--which can accommodate the disengagement plan--into the coalition to replace the NRP and HaIchud HaLeumi, Saar avoided a direct reply. (From a numerical standpoint the coalition would lose only two MKs.) The Coalition Chairman revealed only that he is maintaining good relations with Shas and United Torah Jewry MKs, certainly as former partners. Though he did not come out and say the words "as future partners," all those present felt they were on the tip of his tongue.

Some claimed other motivations lay behind the press conference. They held Saar opposes the disengagement plan and rejecting the Labor Party is his way of trying to torpedo Sharon's plan, or at least other political moves behind the disengagement.

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