JERUSALEM (May. 25)
Likud opened negotiations with the National Religious Party (NRP) in Tel Aviv today aimed at putting together a new coalition government. Likud sources said afterwards that the talks were held with “considerable warmth.” They also said that yesterday’s coalition talks with the Democratic Movement for Change were conducted in a “good atmosphere.”
Likud is apparently anxious to form a broadly based government as quickly as possible and present it to the Knesset for approval within a month. The talks with the DMC and those with the NRP today were held in the absence of Likud leader Menachem Beigin who was hospitalized Sunday night. In the interim a joint Likud-NRP committee was set up to discuss the structure of the next government and decide how many and which Cabinet portfolios the NRP would receive in a Likud-led regime.
The NRP would seem to be a natural coalition partner for Likud inasmuch as they share hardline views on territorial concessions and approaches to peace with the Arabs. But the religious faction has made it clear that it will extract the maximum concessions from Likud and will demand a more senior role in government than it had in its coalitions with the Labor Alignment.
NRP LIST OF CONDITIONS
NRP leader Yosef Burg said before the beginning of today’s talks that the party would submit a long list of conditions for its participation in a coalition government. “I don’t understand why the DMC (with 15 seats in the new Knesset) should get more important portfolios than us since both are medium-size parties,” Burg said. The NRP won 12 seats in the May 17 elections, two more than it has in the outgoing Knesset.
It wants a continuation of the status quo on religious affairs but is expected to demand an expansion of religious education. Burg indicated that his party would not involve itself much in political solutions of the Middle East conflict and would leave that to be settled between Likud and the DMC should the latter agree to join a coalition.
The feeling among observers after the preliminary Likud-DMC talks is that the two factions would find common ground for a coalition. It was hinted in some circles that if Leon Dulzin of the Liberal Party wing of Likud was elected chairman of the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency Executives, the way would be open to assign the key portfolio of Foreign Minister to the DMC. The latter was said to be under mounting pressure from within its ranks to join a Likud-led coalition. DMC and Likud leaders are scheduled to hold a second round of talks tomorrow.
Meanwhile, according to some sources, the Labor Alignment is conducting secret negotiations with the DMC and the NRP on the possibility of forming a minority coalition. Without the NRP Labor, DMC and the two Aguda factions–Aguda Israel, with four seats, and the Poalei Agudat with one seat–could muster only 52 Knesset votes but they would ostensibly be assured of the support of the Rakah Communists with five seats, Sheli with two and one each from the Civil Rights Party, the Independent Liberal Party and the Labor-affiliated Arab List. Under such an arrangement a Labor-led coalition would have a slim majority of 62 Knesset seats.