Menachem Begin and the Likud Party signed an agreement today with two smaller religious parties completing the formation of a coalition government that will be formally presented to Israel's Parliament Monday.
Begin also met with U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis in Tel Aviv this morning and, following the meeting, announced that he would go to meet with President Carter.
Begin's new government is a far cry from the broad-based government of national unity that he called for on election night nearly five weeks ago. The coalition with the National Religious Party and the Agudat Yisrael, which hold 12 and four seats in the Parliament respectively, will give Begin only 61 seats in the 120-member chamber.
Begin also can count on two other votes. One is from Moshe Dayan, whom he named as foreign minister. Dayan, who left the defeated Labor Party, is sitting as an independent member of Parliament. The other supporter is Rabbi Kalma Kahana of the one-man Poalei Agudat Yisrael Party. He is presently in a hospital recovering from a heart attack.
Some of Begin's opponents doubt that such a narrow, right-wing coalition dependent on support of religious factions can last a year, but Begin said today that there are far less stable majorities in Britain and Italy, to name but two, "while here we have a government based on the confidence of the majority of the Knesset (Parliament) members."
Other Likud leaders have pointed out that the opposition is by no means united and that religious parties are often good coalition partners because their demands tend to concern only religious matters.
The door is being left open, meanwhile, to Yigael Yadin and his centrist Democratic Movement for Change, which holds 15 seats, to join the government. The movement broke off coalition negotiations last Tuesday after failing to come to terms with more hawkish Likud on defense and security matters pertaining to the occupied territories on the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip.
The movement's leadership is empowered to resume negotiations if "conditions" change, and the Likud will leave three ministerial posts vacant for the movement in case it joins later. The three posts are sociable welfare commerce and transportation, and justice.
A Likud spokesman said today that Begin would leave these posts vacant only three or four weeks, so the movement is being presented with a stick as well as a carrot.
In addition to Dayan, the Cabinet is to include Ezer Weizman, a former air force chief, as defense minister and Ariel Sharon, a hero of the 1973 war, as agriculture minister.
The coalition agreement signed today proclaims Israel's "historic" right over its land and promises to encourage settlements, "both rural and urban," in occupied territories in accordance with "Zionist aims and goals" as well as security requirements.
The outgoing government, although it was lax about enforcement, held that ewish settlements in the heart of the West Bank's Arab population were incompatable with the government's intention to return these territories one day in exchange for peace. Jewish settlements in the West Bank were planned on the basis of security requirements rather than Zionist aims.
Although the Likud Party is in favor of retaining the West Bank, the coalition agreement states the new government's readinesss to participate in a Geneva conference without prior conditions.
Israel's neighbors are to be invited to negotiate peace agreements, but any resulting negotiations are to be direct, according to the agreement.
A paragraph that Dayan insisted upon says that Israeli law will not be extended to the occupied territories while negotiations are going on in any case without a full parliamentary debate.
"In the absence of a peace conference," the coalition agreement states, the government will be bound by agreements signed by previous Israeli governments.
The agreement does not state, as does the Likud Party platform, that the occupied West Bank is never to be relinquished to foreign rule. There is nothing in the agreement, therefore, to restrict the new Israeli government's ability to go to Geneva on the basis of United Nations Resolution 242 to negotiate every issue, including the future of the West Bank territories.
One of the concerns here, however, is that the planned expansion of Jewish settlements on areas heavily populate by Arabs will create the kind of "new realities" that are very difficult to retreat from later.
Secondly, despite the Likud government's stated willingess to negotiate without prior conditions, there is a fear that the Likud's hawkish stand on the West Bank issue will preclude any chance of successful negotiations.
It was because of these fears, and the apparent inability to influence policy, the Yadin and movement withheld support from Begin's new government.
Within the coalition, the four-man Agudat Yisrael Party, which now holds the balance of power, is demanding that legislation be passed to make it more difficult for women to have abortions and for doctors to perform autopsies. The National Religious Party supports the Agudat in many of its demands.
The Agudat also insists that women be exempt from military service on religious grounds without having to submit to a board of inquiry. The religious parties generally want to tighten up the definition of who can qualify as a Jew.
Most of these demands will be opposed by Israel's less conservative parties and, for the first time in Israel's history, the Parliament is divided more or less between right and left.