Shas Looks Carefully for a Deal

It is not only Amir Peretz and Ehud Olmert who have agreed on a coalition partnership. A few days ago, Olmert and Eli Yishai met and also agreed to work together. Not all hurdles have been removed for Shas (including press leaks saying Olmert is interested in having Avigdor Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu in the coalition). Shas assumes that Kadima has goodwill. Yishai has no commitment from Olmert about the Interior Ministry, but there is a reasonable basis to assume that he will get it if Shas joins the coalition.

One of the problems will be Olmert's desire for one key for Kadima (apparently three seats per minister) and another for coalition partners (a four-to-one ratio). For perhaps the first time in the history of coalition negotiations, the social portfolios are the most sought after. Shas is competing with Labor and the Pensioners for the social welfare and health ministries. United Torah Judaism is also seeking the social welfare portfolio. Presumably no one will come out of these negotiations entirely content.

The following is a list of expected hurdles in the negotiations between the ultra-Orthodox parties and Kadima:

* In the division of labor on state entitlements, the Pensioners will look after the elderly, Labor after wages, and Shas after children's allowances - likely to leave Shas with the least impressive achievements. Party sources are saying that they are going to have to give us something, say a freeze on the proposed cuts in allowances.

* The initial position of the Haredi parties on the conjugal union law will be absolute rejection. However, both Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) understand that a solution will have to be found for non-Jews wishing to marry in Israel. One possible solution: a vote without party discipline in which the law would pass over the strident objections of the Haredim.

* The Haredi parties will demand a law that would restore the monopoly on conversion to the Chief Rabbinate, in other words undoing the Conversion Law. Such an attempt would cause a deep rift with American Jews. It is hard to see Olmert agreeing to this and barely any chance he could make good on such a pledge.

* The Ministry of Religious Affairs will not be recreated. But Shas will demand that control of religious services be given to a minister without portfolio, evidently new MK Ariel Atias. The public might not understand the subtle difference.

* The financial demands of the ultra-Orthodox will be quite similar to the NIS 290 million agreement that was reached in advance of the 2005 budget, with additions and updates. But a sizable portion of the 2005 funds were not transferred, because the head of the financial-supports division in the Attorney General's Office, Amnon de Hartoch, ruled that these allocations were discriminatory. The Haredim are calling for a de Hartoch-bypass law, but even they have no idea how such a law could be worded.

Lesson of Shinui

Has the Haredi public learned the lesson of Shinui? Moshe Grylak, editor of Mishpacha, wrote that Shinui's disappearance is "good news," but also warned that Haredi wheeling-dealing might revive Shinui and unsympathetic feelings by "incautious actions." Grylak suggested supporting Labor's Shelly Yachimovich, "who has decided to fight against the shopping malls that are open on the Sabbath" but doing so behind the scenes to avoid any charge of religious coercion, "which could foil her positive initiative." Grylak is considered a moderate, and this position is unsurprising.

The real surprise is the call from the editor of the Degel Hatorah's Yated Ne'eman, Yitzhak Roth, under the headline "Don't forget Shinui." The party has been erased, he said, but Shinui as a phenomenon can be repeated. Haredi demands "will always be described as political extortion. We should therefore act with great caution and wisdom in conducting the current negotiations."

One party, say the Haredi, is interested solely in budgets and would give its vote to the right or to the left based on the size of the amount it receives. But no one is accusing it of extortion. They are referring, of course, to the Pensioners. This argument could be highly effective in a Popolitika TV-roundtable argument, but ignores the fact that any benefits gained would benefit all Israelis, Haredi and secular alike.

Fewer will vote

The decline in voter turnout will worsen. Post Election Day surveys indicate that like the rest of the Western world, the young are voting less, reminiscent of the decline in newspaper reading among young people. As the years pass, the number of young who do not believe it is an obligation to vote will grow and voter turnout will drop.

Following the election, Professor Ephraim Yaar in his monthly Peace Index poll found that 30 percent of those in the 18-22 age group and 22 percent in the 23-26 age group said that they did not vote. Only about 6 percent who said they did not vote were Israelis age 40 and above. In reality, the percentage of non-voters was 37 percent. How does this jive with the Peace Index findings? One, 10 percent of the non-voters are former Israelis who do not live in Israel and do not respond to polls. And some of those who refused to vote also refuse to answer pollsters' questions. It is by all means possible that some non-voters lied and said that they voted. Rafi Smith of the Smith Institute says that according to the survey he held on Election Day, the rate of non-voters among citizens age 55 and up was 20 percent, while among those age 23-34, it was significantly higher - 33 percent.