The National Religious Party and Shinui agreed yesterday to join Sharon’s coalition government.
This despite Shinui’s anti-religious stance. Although Shas has so far been excluded from the government, in keeping with Lapid’s promise that Shinui would never join a government that includes Shas. At any rate, it looks like the NRP and Shinui have made a couple of key compromises:
The NRP received assurances that religious education would remain independent and budget cuts for national service for religious women would be repealed.
The coalition guidelines will include an agreement reached between the NRP and Shinui which calls for the Tal Law that grants IDF service deferments to all yeshiva students to be canceled and replaced by a new arrangement. The Large Families Law, under which state support for families increases sharply from the fifth child, will be replaced by a law granting an equal allotment for each child.
The key issue to watch there is the Yeshiva deferment one. This has been in place since 1948, when Ben-Gurion made a concession to a small number of Yeshiva students, exempting them from army service in attempt to preserve the small number of religious scholars from Eastern Europe who survived the Holocaust. It quickly ballooned into a huge loophole, through which virtually all religious men and women are able to defer their army service by declaring themselves too religious to serve. It will be interesting to see what the law is replaced with. I personally suspect it won’t be too different from the status quo, because Sharon would never risk alienating the entire Haredi population of Israel at this point.
Shinui and the NRP give Sharon a very narrow majority. If Am Ehad joins the coalition, it will be a bit more secure. Labor, however, still seems to be holding out, and it’s starting to look like Mitzna may actually stay out of the government. Yes, I know I predicted otherwise, but hey, who says I’m right?
The world media is decrying this as being bad for the peace process, saying that Sharon has formed a right-wing government that opposes peace. The NRP is opposed to Palestinian statehood as a matter of record, but I suspect that won’t matter much, as the parties have agreed to consider President Bush’s “road map” – if only to help the ailing Israeli economy for now.