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Collapse of Barak's government averted
Meretz party strategy to step down to keep Shas from resigning works
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Leaders of the ultra-orthodox Shas party in Israel withdrew their resignations Thursday from the government of Prime Minister Ehud Barak, averting a crisis that likely would have toppled his government.
The move came after Shas' main opponent in the Barak coalition, the Meretz party, announced it was withdrawing from the coalition in order to save it from collapse.
"We don't want to be responsible for the collapse of the government," said Meretz leader and Education Minister Yossi Sarid.
Barak's office quoted him as expressing regret at the Meretz resignations and appreciation of the party's "concessionary step, taken to enable progress to be made in the peace process," referring to negotiations with Palestinians aimed at a permanent peace agreement.
Shas ministers met with their spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadi Yosef, before announcing that they would remain in the government.
Shas leader Eli Yishai earlier told reporters if Shas stays in the coalition, it expects to participate as a full partner.
Sarid announced Wednesday that Meretz would give up its cabinet posts and withdraw from the coalition to appease Shas so it would not withdraw its 17 members and torpedo Barak's government.
Because Shas has agreed to keep its members in Barak's coalition, the prime minister has been left with a minority government of 58 out of 120 Knesset members.
But Sarid pledged that Meretz's 10 members of parliament would continue to support Barak outside the coalition, allowing him to fend off any no-confidence motions.
Shas threatened to quit the government over demands that Barak and the Israeli government provide 25 million shekels (about U.S. $8 million) to save the party's bankrupt school system.
Shas also wanted its group of pirate radio stations legalized.
Over weeks of negotiations, Shas' demands expanded to include more respect and fuller consultations in running the government.
Barak said he wanted to keep Shas in the government and had come up with plans to address "90 percent" of their problems.
"If we really want -- for the good of the nation and for the state of Israel -- peace with security, we have to work together. We hope that now a new page has been turned," said Raphael Pinhasi, secretary of Shas' governing council of Torah Sages.
"From our standpoint (Barak) understands that we will not be able to give automatic approval to the process. We want the peace to make progress, we want security for the country," Shas party chairman Eli Yishai told Israel Radio earlier in the day.
Sarid, who had been the education minister in the Barak government, had strongly opposed bailing out the Shas schools.
He said that peace talks with the Palestinians were reaching a critical stage and Meretz would step aside so Barak could keep his government in power and continue the negotiations. Three Meretz ministers turned in their resignations late Wednesday.
Israeli left-wing party to drop out of government to save it
Knesset - The Israeli Parliament
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