Shamir and Peres to Meet for Talks on the Possibility of Forming a Unity Government

Premier Yitzhak Shamir and Labor Party leader Shimon Peres are to meet here tomorrow for a discussion on the possibility of establishing a unity government. This arrangement was the upshot of a dramatic morning of political maneuverings today involving President Chaim Herzog and the top leaderships of the two major blocs.

While everyone professed his unswerving devotion to the idea of a unity government, the unspoken intentions of the rival politicians were to try to upstage each other and gain points — both in the eyes of the President and in the eyes of the public.

Shamir took the first initiative. Emerging from Likud’s meeting with Herzog, Shamir said he had been pleased to hear from the President that Labor was not opposed to a unity government and he (Shamir) would therefore immediately initiate a conversation on this issue. As soon as he got back to his office he telephoned Peres and suggested a meeting.

Peres, plainly caught flatfooted, said he would have to consult with his colleagues. An hour later, having regained his aplomb, Peres called back to “willingly accept”and to suggest midday tomorrow as the time and the King David Hotel in Jerusalem as the place to meet. Peres noted that by then, the two major blocs would have ended their second formal round of talks with the President.

(Today’s talks were informal because Herzog has not yet officially received the election results. Tomorrow morning he is to begin his formal, statutory consultations with the various Knesset factions, meeting first with the Labor Alignment and then with Likud.)

SPECULATION OVER SHAMIR’S INTENTION

Political observers felt that Peres may have outflanked Shamir’s intention to outflank him. Observers speculated that Shamir had intended, by proposing an early meeting with Peres, to drive a wedge between the Labor Party and its Alignment partner Mapam which is still not enthusiastic about the idea of a unty government, and then be able to demonstrate to Herzog tomorrow that Labor is not a serious contender, or else that Likud is the larger bloc favoring unity since Mapam must be discounted from the reckoning.

The ultimate aim of this tactic would be, according to the pundits, to persuade Herzog to vest the task of forming a government — unity or otherwise — in Shamir. If this theory is correct, then Peres, by fixing the meeting for after the formal consultations with Herzog, seems to have blunted Shamir’s thrust.

UNITY OPTION IS ON CENTER STAGE

Whatever the hidden hopes and motivations, the unity option is now on center stage, thanks to ?erzog’s determination to guide the parties towards ?suing it. And the parties for their part — some of {SPAN}##{/SPAN} small ones as well as the big two — are professing {SPAN}##siastic order for this option as the “national need,”in the words of both Shamir and Peres today. Significantly, Shamir did not insist on Likud’s leadership of a unity government as a condition sine qua non while Peres, in effect, did make Labor’s leadership a precondition. Pressed on this specific point by reporter outside the President’s residence, Shamir’s reply was: “This is a matter of talks and negotiations. We will discuss everything. Different ideas could come up….”{/SPAN}When a reporter asked, “So you do not reject (a Peres Premiership) out of hand?” Shamir replied: “I didn’t say anything. We will discuss everything.”

Peres, taxed on the same issue following his setting tomorrow’s appointment with Shamir, replied: “If I heard aright, Mister Shamir said he is ready to honor the election results and to be a member — that is, for Likud to be a member — of a government which would in effect reflect the election results. If so, I see this as a great step forward… We would then have to discuss joint policy lines…”

And earlier, on the same subject, after emerging from Labor’s meeting with Herzog, Peres said: “There are election results and all parties are required to accept them with love and without seeking to overturn them.” In other words, as leader of the largest faction — Labor won 44 Knesset seats and Likud 41 — Peres should be Premier of the projected unity government.

At their informal meetings with Herzog, the President told both delegations that he would not discuss “personnel composition” on this occasion, but rather the possibility in principle of a unity government which, he felt, was what the people wanted and what the nation needed.

SHAMIR, PERES CITE NEED FOR UNITY GOVERNMENT

Peres told the waiting reporters that Labor’s reply had been “unequivocal. Like the President, we too feel that all the nation wants a unity government and we are going to respond to this desire and to this national need and set up a government that will unify … that can tackle the major problems… If the task is granted to me, I will attempt to create a national unity government including Likud…. If the President imposes that task on me I shall approach Shamir and suggest that we meet alone….”

Shamir, facing the same battery of reporters 90 minutes later, said the differences between the parties “are not so deep as to be unbridgeable, and … therefore a unity government is feasible and realistic.”

As major problems to be tackled, Shamir cited the economy and Lebanon, on both of which. he said, there were “no basic differences of principle” between the major parties. He also listed the “need to strengthen our democracy, but introducing certain changes.”

Shamir is known to feel most profoundly that the proliferation of minor parties must be prevented in the future by constitutional reform. He believes the present system has become virtually unworkable and the government — any government — can hardly do its job at all.

Later, Shamir’s bureau put out a clarification to the effect that the Premier had certainly not “forgone the Premiership (of a unity government) ab initio” by his failure categorically to reject the idea of Peres leading a unity government.

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