Inconclusive Coalition Talks Continue

Likud and Labor leaders met again today, for the second consecutive day, to discuss the possibility of forming a national unity government. But the only point on which they agreed was to meet again either tomorrow or Friday.

The three-hour session today, like the two-hour session yesterday, brought into stark focus the difference between Israel’s two main political blocs on the central issues of defense and foreign policy.

At times it seemed the differences focused on the problem of the West Bank settlements, with Likud favoring unrestricted settlement and Labor advocating “selective” settlement only. But as Premier-designate Yitzhak Shamir told reporters after today’s meeting, the settlements merely represented the much broader dispute over “the political future of Eretz Yisrael: territorial compromise or no territorial compromise.”

Both sides, however, reported that the discussions were serious and were held in a good atmosphere. Shamir said he still believed ways could be found to set up a unity Cabinet despite the differences. Labor Party leader Shimon Peres did not sound optimistic. “The only ray of hope is that we have agreed to hold another meeting,” he said.

Political observers expect this effort at unity to fade by the weekend, whereupon Shamir will resume his task of reconstituting the present Likud-led coalition.

Shamir also met separately with leaders of the National Religious Party and Tehiya today, and he assured them that the Likud was not about to abandon its position on West Bank settlements.

Science Minister Yuval Neeman, the leader of Tehiya, said later he was “not worried” that there was any danger of “erosion” in the Likud’s position. NRP’s Yehuda Ben-Meir suggested the Likud and Labor negotiators put aside the vexed settlements issue and focus on economic and social policy where there is a good prospect of achieving agreement.

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