An Israeli minister said Sunday that a deal could be in sight to end a crisis threatening the future of Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak's 11-month old government after marathon weekend negotiations.
Barak's One Israel party has been locked in intensive political bargaining with the ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas party in a bid to persuade its four ministers not to bolt the fractious coalition in a dispute over its bankrupt schools system.
"We have made progress and I would not be surprised if we are able to formulate and conclude an accord in the next few hours," finance minister Avraham Shohat, a close Barak aide, told Israeli radio.
Barak has postponed until Tuesday the weekly cabinet meeting usually held Sunday to allow more time to woo Shas, whose support is vital if the prime minister is to keep a broad coalition to back his peace policies with the Arabs.
The ministers from Shas, which has 17 seats in the 120-member parliament, were supposed to hand in letters of resignation Sunday in line with a decision by the party's spiritual leadership, the Council of Torah Sages.
"Tuesday is the last and final day. If by then the crisis is not resolved, we are out," Shas political leader Eli Yishai, who holds the labour and social affairs portfolio, was quoted in the press as saying.
The row within Barak's alliance erupted June 7th when Shas and two other right-wing and religious parties in the coalition voted against his government by supporting an opposition bill calling for early elections.
The party has been demanding that the government pay to revamp its ailing education system for Sephardic Jews of Middle Eastern origin and give it more control over its schools as a price for its loyalty.
It also wants Shas-run pirate radio stations to be legalized as a condition for ending the current crisis - OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP)
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