Interior Minister Aryeh Deri was expected to resign yesterday, a move that would throw Israel's coalition government into turmoil and likely provoke a Cabinet reshuffle.
Rabbi Deri, a leader of the ultra-orthodox Shas Party, had vowed to resign because the outspokenly secular Shulamit Aloni, of the left-wing Meretz alliance, had not yet been fired as education minister, as Deri had demanded.
The resignation, however, would not take effect for 48 hours, giving Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin until Tuesday night to save his coalition.
Should Deri withdraw from the Cabinet, taking his six fellow Shas members of the parliament out of the governing coalition, Mr. Rabin's parliamentary majority would be reduced to one vote.
While this would be sufficient to stay in office, the government would be dependent on the votes of five Israeli-Arab members of parliament. Rabin has been reluctant to admit the Arabs into his coalition government because he does want to be the first Israeli premier to appoint an Arab to a ministerial post.
Such an uncertain majority, even members of the ruling Labor Party concede, would not be firm enough for the government to pursue meaningful peace negotiations with its Arab neighbors. With popular opinion now evenly divided over the merits of conceding land for peace, Rabin needs a strong parliamentary majority in favor of his planned concessions in order to claim a mandate for them.
The most likely outcome of the crisis, most observers believe, is a Cabinet reshuffle which would move Ms. Aloni to another ministry. On Sunday, however, Meretz was still refusing to countenance any change in Aloni's status.
Shas has long opposed Aloni's control of the education ministry, and anti-religious statements she allegedly made in Warsaw during Holocaust memorial celebrations have again aroused the ultra-orthodox community's ire.
Deri's critics, however, see his threats as muscle flexing to illustrate his political clout, in a bid to convince the government not to press corruption charges against him. Police fraud-squad officers are on the point of winding up a three-year investigation of Deri, which is expected to result in criminal charges of misappropriation of funds.