Shas, Likud Reach Coalition Compromise on Education

Shas and Likud have reached a compromise on the ultra-Orthodox party's demand for the education portfolio and on the appointment of an exclusive minister for ultra-Orthodox education in the next government, sources familiar with the negotiations said yesterday. United Torah Judaism was also said to have withdrawn its demand for the post of deputy education minister.

Both parties' demands have caused a stir in education circles and among the wider Israeli public, and have slowed down coalition talks. According to the compromise, Shas chairman MK Eli Yishai will become interior minister, MK Ariel Atias will become minister of housing, and Shas will also receive the new government's religion portfolio.

In addition, one Shas MK will be appointed as a minister in the Prime Minister's Office, to administer the ultra-Orthodox education system from that post. The leading candidate for the appointment remains MK Meshulam Nahari. Shas is also to receive chairmanship of the Knesset Committee of the Interior, and a deputy minister post in a ministry yet to be named.

The Labor Party's possible entry into government may cost Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu as much as four to five portfolios, the sources note. They speculated that these portfolios could be defense, infrastructure, trade, agriculture and welfare. Labor would also receive a deputy-minister post.

Since these appointments would cut into positions originally reserved for Likud MKs, the number of portfolios allocated to Yisrael Beiteinu may be reduced to four. Several senior Likud figures also said Netanyahu may have to give up the finance portfolio he was keeping for himself and appoint a senior Likud MK to the post.

"Netanyahu hesitates to let go of his dream to become finance minister but he may have to kowtow to the political reality within the party," the Likud sources said.