Looking Right and Left

Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon was 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.

Sharon has signed up several major and minor parties in the past two weeks to ensure him a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

With Labor, Shas, the leftist One Nation Party, the immigrant-rights Yisrael Ba’Aliyah and the far-right National Union-Israel, Our Home factions on board — as well as Dalia Rabin-Pelossof, a member of the almost-defunct Center Party who will become a deputy defense minister — Sharon’s coalition has grown to 70.

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 93, was widely seen as pushing Shas to enter the government.

Following the attack, Shas Party 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.

On Monday, Likud reached agreement with Labor to repeal the direct election system, according to Ha’aretz. Since the bill also has the backing of several smaller parties — including Meretz, United Torah Judaism and Hadash — it 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 an official to oversee Shas’ private school network, control of which was a fatal bone of contention between the Shas and Meretz parties in the Barak government.

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.

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.

As of Tuesday, Likud ministers include Limor Livnat for the Education Ministry; Silvan Shalom to Finance; and Danny Naveh as minister without portfolio, serving as a liaison between the Knesset and the Cabinet. In addition, Meir Sheetrit is expected to go to Justice, and Uzi Landau will be public security minister.

Yisrael Ba’Aliyah accepted Likud’s offer of the Housing Ministry. However, the pro-settler National Religious Party will not join the government.