Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Sivan 5762 - May 22, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Sharon Fires Shas and UTJ as His Budget Plan Fails in Knesset
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon fired four out of five cabinet ministers as well as five deputy ministers from Shas and the two deputy ministers from United Torah Judaism after both parties voted Monday night against the government's budget plan in the Knesset, which lost 47-44. The firings go into effect in 48 hours leaving time for negotiations which will probably not be concluded until close to the deadline if at all.

Firing the ministers is not the same as throwing them out of the government. Officially both Shas and UTJ are still part of the government.

The financial markets did not show signs of distress early Tuesday, indicating that they expected some resolution of the difficulties and not a government crisis.

Sharon also sent a strongly-worded reprimand to Likud minister Limor Livnat, who absented herself from the Knesset at the time of the vote.

The one Shas minister who is not a Knesset member, the Minister of Religious Affairs, handed in his resignation on hearing that his colleagues had been dismissed.

The budget plan was scheduled to go before the Knesset for a revote on Wednesday. The legislation is the main vehicle of NIS 13 billion in budget changes.

Without the two parties, Sharon's coalition has only 60 members of the 120 member Knesset. It is possible for it to continue, dependent on outside support. It may also bring in National Union-Yisroel Beiteinu or Shinui. In any case the power of Labor is much increased and it can now determine when to hold elections.

Several Labor Party MKs also failed to support the economic plan and simply did not show for the vote. Altogether, only 14 of the 24 members of Labor voted with the government.

Labor's defection was particularly devastating because Sharon and Finance Minister Silvan Shalom had made a calculated decision to forfeit the votes of the chareidi parties in exchange for Labor's support.

Moments before the vote, Sharon had threatened to fire the Shas ministers should they vote against the plan, as he is legally entitled to do with any minister who votes against a cabinet decision.

The defeat of the economic program sparked widespread talk of the imminent dissolution of the coalition and early elections among both coalition and opposition MKs.

The government was dealt a severe blow when it failed to get its emergency economic plan for 2002 and 2003 approved in its first reading by the Knesset, despite an agreement between the Likud and Labor to cooperate in pushing the legislation through the Knesset.

The chareidi parties in the government, Shas and United Torah Judaism, opposed the plan because of its proposed cuts to support payments for children whose parents didn't serve in the army.

Meretz, the Arab factions, Shinui, and Am Ehad also opposed the plan. The National Union-Yisroel Beiteinu faction decided to support the package after announcing that it had reached an agreement with Shalom on its reservations about the plan.

Labor wants changes made to the plan before its second and third readings, and is not likely to support a reduction in tax breaks for the North and the Negev.

Labor MKs who did not attend the vote Monday include Avraham Burg, Yael Dayan, Avi Yehezkel, Sallah Tarif, Shlomo Ben- Ami, and Chaim Ramon.

Other measures include a freeze in other NII payments, canceling the cap on NII taxes, and a cut in housing aid for the needy. But there will be no cut in the support payments for handicapped, terror victims, widows, and Holocaust survivors, Shalom announced. Water rates are also being increased for farmers.

The legislation also would reduce by 50 percent tax breaks to residents of the North, the territories, and the Negev for a savings of NIS 850 million a year.

Additional measures, including a rise in gasoline and cigarette taxes, have already been approved. The government is to also cut 4 percent from ministerial budgets in the Knesset Finance Committee and raise sales tax (VAT) from 17 to 18 percent via a cabinet decision.


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