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Monday, May 01, 2006

Shas joins governing coalition with reservations

Shas joined the coalition without joining the coalition last night, and in the process may have put a serious crimp in Ehud Olmert's convergence surrender plans as well as thwarting the coalition's desire to 'solve' the problem of those who are unable to marry under Jewish law.

Kadima Achora and Shas initialed an agreement that details Shas' objections to the two provisions in the agreement signed last week with Labor, and provides that Shas will not be bound by them. The two clauses to which Shas objected were the clauses in the coalition guidelines that referred to "a reduction of the areas of Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria" and that "the government will bring without delay legislation to solve the problem of those unable to get married."(Today, all legal marriage within Israel takes place under religious law, and those who are ineligible to marry under religious law marry abroad if at all. The government does recognize marriages consummated abroad as do most countries in the world. The way to 'resolve' this problem is by permitting civil marriages).

Prime Minister Designate Ehud Olmert agreed that Shas leader Eli Yishai would sign a letter that would be attached to the coalition agreement that states Shas's objection to the 'settlements' clause and confirming that Shas will not be bound by that clause in any way. Translation - Shas and its ministers can vote against the convergence surrender plan in the Knesset without being forced to resign the government, even if the vote on the convergence surrender plan is a 'vote of confidence.'

On the civil marriage clause, Shas did even better. Shas received a clause saying that any legislation regarding civil marriage would be brought "only with the agreement of all coalition partners." (This clause is apparently also in Yishai's letter that will be attached to the coalition agreement and not in the coalition agreement itself). Yishai told reporters last night that this meant that there would be no civil marriage legislation.

Shas will receive four ministries:
industry, trade and labor; communications; a minister-without-portfolio in the Prime Minister's Office in charge of religious services; and another minister-without-portfolio in either the Treasury or Education Ministry.

The Labor party was too busy fighting over how its ministers would be selected (late last night, party chairman Amir Peretz won a narrow victory in a central committee vote permitting him to decide who would be appointed ministers) to react to the Shas agreement. Labor negotiator and former attorney general David Liba'i said that
"the guidelines [signed by Kadima Achora and Labor last week] bind all the parties in the coalition," but conceded that an agreement that exempts one party from some of the provisions would be possible.

United Torah Judaism - the Ashkenazi Haredi party - was enraged by last night's agreement.
UTJ's representatives broke off their talks with Kadima, claiming that the clause over civil marriage was unacceptable to them. But they were most angry at Shas, whom they accused of acting against the interests of the Haredi community by closing a deal on its own. UTJ is demanding legislation to govern the ultra-Orthodox education system and religious services. It also wants the government guidelines to include maintaining the status quo regarding religion and state. They also feel that the concessions that Shas received on funding child allowances (see below) are insufficient). According to HaAretz, the negotiations between UTJ and Kadima Achora are continuing.

The National Union - National Religious Party was also upset at the agreement,
"Shas's entry into the government constitutes a de facto kashrut certificate for the uprooting of thousands of settlers and the burning and destruction of dozens of synagogues and Torah institutions in Gush Katif and, heaven forbid, dozens more in Judea and Samaria," said MK Yitzhak Levy. "The revenants will not forget that Shas turned its back on them during this difficult time, when the sword is at its throat." I wonder if they remember that the NRP was in the government that voted for the unilateral withdrawal surrender and expulsion of Jews from Gaza plan during Sharon's government.

According to HaAretz, Shas
is also to receive NIS 1.8 billion in benefits, part of which are apparently 'child allowances' for families with large numbers of children. Those allowances had been cut drastically by the last two governments. Shas managed to cancel all the planned cuts in National Insurance Institute child allotments until 2009, coming to NIS 450 million. In addition, those who receive child allotments will get a one-time bonus this year, totaling NIS 650 million, and about NIS 700 million will be turned over to the ministerial socioeconomic committee, a panel on which Yishai will have a position. Some of that money will go toward the child allotments, while the rest will go toward nutrition programs, children at risk and other projects. But according to a 'senior member' of Shas, "The promise for a fund of 700 NIS is for three years. There is no news here for the distress our public is facing."


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