Rabin to assume power today, ending Israeli conservatives' 15-year rule

JERUSALEM — JERUSALEM -- A new Israeli government will assume power today promising to speed the peace process, slow Jewish settlements in Arab lands, and trim the political power of religious groups.

Yitzhak Rabin will formally take over in an afternoon ceremony at the Knesset, ending the conservative Likud coalition's 15-year effort to lead the country by ideological reins.


Mr. Rabin, 70, will replace all but one of the current Cabinet members with 16 appointees from his own Labor Party or the left-wing Meretz Party, giving a decided liberal slant to the government.

The change of government will likely produce a quick thaw in Israeli-U.S. relations. Washington may now approve large loan guarantees to Israel, which were blocked in a dispute over settlements.


In his last full day as prime minister yesterday, Yitzhak Shamir bid an emotional farewell to his Cabinet. He said, "I seriously doubt if any government in Israel in the past has had such achievements" as his own.

Mr. Shamir, 76, whose party was defeated in the June 23 elections, has said he will soon retire from political life.

Although Mr. Rabin's Labor Party won the most seats, he had to conduct marathon negotiations in the last three weeks to secure the necessary majority of 61 seats in the 120-member Israeli parliament.

He attempted to hammer together an unwieldy coalition with parties across the political spectrum to give him a strong power base. But the compromises needed to bridge ideological gaps collapsed, and he failed to bring more religious or conservative parties into his government.

He has reserved some political plums in hopes that other parties will desert the opposition and join the government.

Mr. Rabin will enter the government today with only three parties: his Labor Party, Meretz, and the Shas religious party. He also has the support of two small Israeli-Arab parties, though they are not included in the government and no Arab will hold a Cabinet seat.

"I'm very satisfied," Mr. Rabin said of his Cabinet lineup. He noted that only four of his appointees have been in the Cabinet before."The rest will be new ministers, and this is our big achievement. A majority of new people."

The coalition negotiations are an Israeli tradition; no party has ever won a clear majority. The wrangling made for political soap opera, as various actors huffed off stage when they did not get what they want.


Mr. Rabin avoided one messy scene by giving the important foreign ministry to his longtime rival, Shimon Peres. Mr. Rabin, an Israeli military hero, did not appoint a defense minister and will run military policy himself.