JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, trying to hold his coalition government together, yesterday chastised his leftist education minister for advocating the full return of the occupied Golan Heights to Syria and for equally controversial comments on religious issues.
But Mr. Rabin stopped short of dismissing Shulamit Aloni in order to retain the support of her Citizens Rights Movement and the other parties in Meretz, a leftist bloc that helps give the Labor-led government its working majority in the Knesset, Israel's Parliament.
"I made it clear that we cannot continue to maintain the present coalition if the phenomenon of Shulamit Aloni's statements continues," Mr. Rabin said after a meeting with Meretz leaders.
"The problem is not with Meretz nor with the [other] ministers of Meretz, but with the comments of Shulamit Aloni on religious matters and politics."
Although Mr. Rabin depends on Meretz for 12 of his coalition's 62 seats in the 120-member Knesset, he also needs the six seats of Shas, a religious party that has objected to Ms. Aloni's efforts to de-emphasize religion in reforming the country's schools and has warned it might quit the government as a result.
The Aloni controversy thus exposed both major fault lines in Israeli politics -- Rabin's "land for peace" approach to negotiations with the country's Arab neighbors and the place of religion in the Jewish state. And it left questions on Mr. Rabin's ability to win support for the compromises necessary in those peace negotiations.
"The basis of the coalition is very sensitive," Meretz chairman Yossi Sarid said after the meeting at Mr. Rabin's office. "The prime minister urged us to take this into consideration and to express our opinions in a more cautious way. This crisis is over, I believe."
Peace is Meretz's top priority, Mr. Sarid continued, and it wants to remain in the coalition to promote it.
Ms. Aloni had appeared unrepentant on Friday as the crisis mounted, declaring, "I am a woman who arouses controversy," but yesterday she uncharacteristically let Mr. Sarid do the talking.
Ms. Aloni had angered Mr. Rabin by saying that the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, still belonged to Syria under international law despite Israeli action to annex them and then adding that Mr. Rabin was prepared to return them in full in a peace settlement.
"I was shocked to read in the papers that I would give back the whole Golan Heights," said Mr. Rabin, who wants to to keep Israel's position forthcoming but fuzzy in the current negotiations with Syria. "That's total nonsense. I by no means authorized this, nor had she any basis to say it."
Yaacov Tsur, the agriculture minister and a Rabin confidant, said the Aloni statement during the most recent round of Syrian-Israeli peace negotiations had undermined Jerusalem's position and "caused great harm."
Ms. Aloni had already come under fire from religious parties for suggestions that the government use the text of a memorial prayer that omits the name of God, that Israeli schools teach evolution as scientifically verified and that religious studies be reduced in reforming the country's educational system.
Interior Minister Arye Deri, who represents Shas in the Cabinet, warned that Ms. Aloni's comments would soon drive his party out of the coalition. "Every day, she offends us," Mr. Deri said last week. "Rabin should fire her."
The fight between Ms. Aloni, a longtime civil rights advocate, and Israel's religious parties is an old one and reflects entirely different visions of the Jewish state.
Ms. Aloni walked out of an earlier Rabin Cabinet, in 1974, when he brought the National Religious Party into his governing coalition with a series of compromises she felt ignored the country's real problems.