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Wednesday, June 16, 1999 Published at 14:58 GMT 15:58 UK

World: Middle East

Israel poised for coalition

Mr Barak has just three weeks to form a government

Israel's political vacuum came closer to being filled by a new coalition government after the resignation of the controversial leader of Shas, the ultra-orthodox party.

Israel Elections Special Report
Aryeh Deri stepped down as party chairman, paving the way for prime minister-elect Ehud Barak to form a broad-based coalition government.

Without Shas support in the Knesset, Mr Barak was struggling to form a government by the legal deadline of 8 July.

He is aiming for a 77- seat majority in the 120-seat parliament, made up of

  • 26 from his own One Israel party
  • 17 from Shas
  • 10 from Meretz
  • six each from the Yisrael ba-Aliya immigrant party and the Centre party faction
  • five each from UTJ and the National Religious Party
  • two from the Am Ehad party.

Mr Barak had demanded Mr Deri's resignation as a pre-condition for Shas to join the governing coalition. Mr Deri was convicted of stealing public funds earlier this year.

Hilary Andersson: "There are fundamental policy differences between Mr Barak's coalition partners"
His four-year sentence for corruption, bribery and fraud has been deferred, awaiting a Supreme Court appeal.

The resignation of one of the most prominent figures in Israeli politics ends a month-long political battle of wills.


Shortly after the May 17 elections, Mr Deri announced that he would not take up his seat in the 120-member Knesset, but he stopped short of resigning as Shas leader.

[ image: Elections left a political vacuum in Israel]
Elections left a political vacuum in Israel
Mr Deri however finally caved in to pressure from fellow Shas lawmakers and the movement's spiritual leaders to announce on Tuesday night that he was also resigning as party chairman.

His resignation is to be approved at a meeting of the council of rabbis who form the Shas spiritual leadership.

The BBC's correspondent Hilary Andersson says the party clearly wants to join a new government, and now there is a greater chance that this could happen.

Trouble ahead

Notwithstanding the fundamental policy differences between Mr Barak's party and its potential coalition partners, the prime-minister elect still has much work to do, say correspondents.

The left-wing Meretz Party, a natural coalition partner for the strongly secular Shinui Party both say they will not sit in a government with the ultra-orthodox party.

Although Shas takes a moderate view on the peace process, left-wing parties object to its views on the role of religion and the state.

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