Faced with the worst political crisis of his 10-month-old government, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin warned feuding parties Thursday that a breakup of his coalition would spell an end to the Middle East peace talks.
Army Radio said early today that because of the crisis, Rabin canceled a trip to Strasbourg, France, next week for a meeting of the European Parliament.
The religious Shas Party threatens to bolt unless Rabin fires Education Minister Shulamit Aloni of the left-wing Meretz Bloc by Sunday. Aloni has frequently irked ultra-Orthodox Jews with her liberal, secular views.
She is determined to stay on, said an Education Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Arye Deri, head of Shas, told Israel TV Thursday night, "We and Meretz are like milk and meat." He was referring to Jewish dietary laws that call for separation of the two.
"The prime minister committed himself that he would . . . fire her if she deviates. He is not doing it. Sunday I will not be minister of interior," Deri said.
Rabin appeared to be blaming Meretz for the crisis, saying if the bloc's top priority truly was peace, personal considerations should be secondary.
"It's hard to believe that people who have the slogan of peace in their throats are able to bring up . . . a problem that could, heaven forbid, lead to breakup of the coalition," Rabin told his Labor Party's central committee Thursday.
"I'm telling you, this would mean in fact breaking off the peace process . . . and it's simply hard for me to understand how people are losing perspective in the face of historic opportunities."
Meretz ministers argued that if Rabin gave in to Shas now, he would only open himself up to more blackmail.
However, a growing number of Labor legislators appeared in favor of moving Aloni to another ministry.
Shas has been upset by her criticism of the influence of religious groups in Israel's largely secular society.
Shas, with six seats, is critical to holding Rabin's 62-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset, or Parliament. He could continue to govern because he has the outside support of five Arab legislators. But it would be hard for him to make concessions in peace talks if he does not have a majority of Jewish legislators.
In another development, an Israeli Jew was sentenced to four years, four months in prison Thursday after he was convicted of working with the Palestine Liberation Organization to plan assassinations of Israeli leaders.
No attacks were carried out, the court was told.