After weeks of coalition negotiations, on Monday Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presented the 67-MK coalition and the 27-minister cabinet he assembled to President Moshe Katsav. Olmert told the president that he intended to expand the coalition to 76 MKs in the near future, and on Thursday, after the swearing-in ceremony at the Knesset, Olmert will meet Katsav a second time to present the full new government.
One of the old-new members of the government is Shas, which signed a coalition agreement with Olmert on Sunday. This agreement raises a number of question marks, especially regarding how Olmert plans to push his “Convergence Plan” through the government.
The deal between the parties doesn’t obligate Shas to support the plan, and leaves it an open escape route: according to the deal, Olmert may change the coalition make-up at any time during the latter part of the session.
“Both sides and partners in the coalition will support and vote in favor of political policy as it was presented during Olmert’s inauguration speech,” the agreement says. That speech, however, neglects to mention the Convergence plan. Reinforcing the deal's ambiguity, in another clause Shas Chairman Eli Yishai clarifies: “Regarding the political section of the basic principles, I wish to clarify that the faction supports political policy as presented in your speech alone.”
During elections, Shas made intense efforts to recruit votes from the disadvantaged and poor sectors in addition to its usual support pool among the extreme Orthodox and religious. In light of Shas' success in the elections, the party was apparently successful in doing so. However, when Shas representatives sat down at the negotiating table with Kadima, it became apparent that the promises the party made and the reality it could achieve did not quite match up. Olmert unequivocally refused to increase allowance payments to the disadvantaged. The sides solved the disagreement in the clause, “Allotment of resources for programs for poor children and adolescents,” although the bulk of the monies end up going to disadvantaged youths in the Haredi sector.
The clause on religious matters in the Kadima-Shas coalition agreement further testifies to the parity between promises made on the eve of elections and the reality. That clause rules that no legislation will be passed regarding marriage, for example, without Shas’ agreement.
Additionally, the government will propose a law - bypassing the High Court of Justice - which grants rabbinical courts the authority to judge in financial matters between married couples. Rabbinical courts claimed for years that they should have the authority to rule in arbitration cases between partners, although the High Court of Justice decided three weeks ago that they did not have that authority.
Finally, designated Education Minister Yuli Tamir should prepare to receive another minister in her office, who will be responsible for independent education, as insisted upon by Shas.
“The law will allow all Orthodox learning institutions to continue the unique curriculum they have practiced up until now. The law will ensure the continued existence of the Orthodox schools’ independent monitoring system,” the agreement says.