JERUSALEM (Sep. 25)
The Labor Party secretariat decided today after a stormy five-hour debate in Tel Aviv to accept Premier-designate Yitzhak Shamir’s invitation to Shimon Peres to hold talks on the possibility of setting up a national unity government.
The vote in the secretariat, in support of a motion proposed by Peres, Yitzhak Rabin and other party leaders, was 37-24. Peres and Rabin made it clear that what they were proposing was merely to meet and to talk to the Likud: This will still be a far cry from actually forming a government.
In fact, Peres was quoted in reports out of the closed-door meeting as saying the chances of such a gov- ernment arising were still slender. He vowed that Labor would stick firmly to its main political and ideological positions and demand major changes in the present government’s policy guidelines as a basis for its participation in a unity government.
Peres and Rabin cited Lebanon, the West Bank and the economy as three key areas in which radical policy-changes would have to be agreed upon before Labor could contemplate joining a unity government under Shamir.
Labor wants a quick withdrawal from all of Lebanon, a cessation of settlement activity in areas not included in its Allon Plan for eventual West Bank territorial compromise, and it wants sweeping changes in economic policy.
UNITY GOVERNMENT SEEN AS UNLIKELY
Despite the Labor Secretariat’s decision, most political observers continued to predict that a unity government would not in the end arise. They regarded Likud’s invitation and Labor’s response as steps in a delicate quadrille danced by the two main parties with the purpose of portraying the other in the eyes of the public as the one responsible for the failure of efforts to set up a unity government.
Nevertheless, Labor’s decision immediately caused strains within the Labor-Mapam Alignment. Mapam’s Secretary General Victor Shemtov said it was wrong for Labor to play this game — even if it was only a tactical game.
He warned somberly that if by any chance the talks with Likud did succeed, “that would be tantamount to a capitulation by Labor, and it would spell the end of the Alignment.” Shemtov said Labor’s decision today “does not bind Mapam” and thus Mapam would take no part in the projected talks with Shamir and the Likud.
A similar position was expected to be adopted by Labor’s two smaller partners in the Alignment, Shulamit Aloni’s Citizens Rights Party and the Independent Liberals. (This latter party does not presently have any Knesset representation.)
ADVOCATES AND OPPONENTS OF UNITY GOVERNMENT
Among those within the Labor leadership who have openly supported the need to respond positively to Shamir’s invitation has been former Justice Minister Haim Zadok. Considered a dove on political issues, Zadok nevertheless argued that the Likud offer cannot be “dismissed” but must be examined with care.
Opponents of any talks with Likud included hawkish Tel Aviv party leader Eliahu Speiser MK and doveish former Chief of Staff Mordechai Gur MK, as well as representatives of the United Kibbutz Movement embracing former Mapai’s Ihud Hakibbutzim and former Ahdut Haavoda’s Hakibbutz Hameuchad.
On the Likud side, Knesset members ardently favoring a unity government are keeping up an intensive lobbying campaign. Early this morning, Likud-Liberal Yitzhak Berman, together with the two coalition independents Mordechai Ben-Porat and Yigael Hurwitz were seen meeting with Rabin at a Tel Aviv hotel, seeking to persuade him that a joint policy platform between the two parties was possible.
Hurwitz said the group would be meeting with other key Laborites, including members of the kibbutz movement which strongly opposes the unity government idea.
Other MKs on the Likud side who favor a unity government have been seeking to draft policy papers on focal issues — for instance, settlement — which would comprise language acceptable to both the major parties.
DISTURBED BY HERZOG’S ‘INTERFERENCE’
While the pundits and the politicians, by and large, still predict that the unity effort will fail, one unexpected factor that could disturb their predictions is the “activism” of President Chaim Herzog in the matter.
Herzog today professed himself entirely unrepentant–despite widespread media criticism from unnamed politicians — for speaking out in favor of a unity government.
The first time he did so was last Wednesday, at the brief ceremony when he conferred upon Shamir the task of forming a government. He noted then that the majority of the Knesset factions with whom he had consulted seemed to want a unity government and this was the desire of many ordinary Israelis, too.
In a television interview on Friday night, Herzog reinforced this message, saying that he himself favored the unity government option. “This would certainly be desirable on condition that it were possible for all the factors involved to agree upon common policy guidelines,” he stated. He said it was pointless to expect Labor to join a Likud government on the basis of the present policy guidelines. Herzog cited the economic problems facing the country, as well as other difficulties, as reason to “aspire to” a national unity government.
Several newspapers reported today that politicians of all hues had been “aghast” at the President’s “interference” in politics — especially at such a delicate stage in the interparty negotiations.
But Herzog, attending the President’s traditional Succot “open house” at his residence in Jerusalem today said there were times when “it is important for people in leadership to feel what the people feel.” He said he was “no novice” in matters of interviews and media communications — but had never experienced such an outpouring of positive response as he had received in the wake of his television interview supporting the unity government option.