Tel Aviv (Nov. 19)
Persistent rumors that Labor might join Likud to form a national unity government were decisively put down today by Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres. He told a press conference here that before Labor could even consider such a move, the basic guidelines of the present government would have to be changed and this Premier Menachem Begin absolutely refuses to do.
According to Peres, Begin’s only interest in a national coalition would be to humiliate the Labor Alignment by making it a junior partner. It is not his intention to call on Labor to help overcome the country’s intractable problems which, Peres said, developed or were worsened by the faulty measures taken by Begin and his Likud colleagues.
The only national coalition in Israel’s history was formed after the Six-Day War when the ruling Labor Party joined forces with the opposition, including Begin’s Herut party. It was a short-lived government. Begin himself suggested a unity government after his narrow electoral victory last June but Labor rejected the idea.
More recently, Education Minister Zevulun Hammer of the National Religious Party, Likud’s coalition partner, has been trying to convince the leaders of Labor and Likud that a broad coalition is necessary at this time. He met with Begin on the subject last Sunday and subsequently talked with Peres who, at the time, reportedly did not dismiss the possibility out of hand.
The idea was favored in principle by former Premier Yitzhak Rabin in interviews over the weekend and was said to be supported by rightwing and hawkish elements of the Labor Party. But Mapam threatened to pull out of the Labor Alignment if it joined the Likud coalition.
BEGIN’S REACTION IS RESERVED
Begin’s reaction to Hammer’s proposal was reserved. He said that he had always favored a national coalition in principle but in order to materialize, Labor must make no pre-conditions such as Rabin’s insistence that a new government be formed with new guidelines. The same condition was made by Peres today.
Transportation Minister Haim Corfu of Likud proposed Monday that a national unity government should be established for a period of five to eight years in order to solve the country’s economic problems. He said this could not be completed within the span of one four year Knesset term. According to Corfu, the government must have the backing of an absolute majority of the people “with no opposition from one side or another,” if it is to set the national economy right.