JERUSALEM (Aug. 6)
Labor Party leader Shimon Peres, who was given the task yesterday by President Chaim Herzog of forming a new government, and Premier Yitzhak Shamir met here for two hours today in private talks. They told reporters afterwards that their talks were “frank and friendly” but declined substantive comment, other than that they discussed the possibility offorming a national unity government.
Herzog chose Peres for the task because his party won the largest number of Knesset seats — 44 to Likud’s 41 — in last month’s elections and because 60 Knesset members asked Herzog last Friday to choose Peres to form the next government while Likud could only muster 54 MKs to ask the President to give Shamir the first chance.
Yosef Burg, leaders of the National Religious Party, announced today that he was ready to serve in a Peres-led national unity government but not in a narrowly-based coalition led by either Labor or Likud. Last Friday, Burg said he would be ready to serve in a national unity government without specifying who he preferred as the Premier.
Observers agreed that Burg was acting out of conviction that a narrow coalition, however led, would produce a crippled government, unable to cope with Israel’s 400 percent inflation, an IDF mired in Lebanon, and certainly unable to act on the broiling West Bank settlement issue.
Peres hopes to use his 21-day mandate as Premier-designate to convince Shamir to serve under Peres in a unity government. The two leaders, at their private meeting, said they discussed a national unity coalition and would talk again Thursday.
Shamir refused to tell reporters whether he had made any commitment to serving under Peres in a unity government but last night Deputy Premier David Levy said Likud would not join a Labor-led unity government and said Peres would fail to form a coalition. Peres has a second 21-day period to try a second time.
Likud, in the unity talks, reportedly has been pressing Peres to accept a rotating Prime Ministership, or, short of that, guarantees of key jobs for Likud of the Defense and Foreign Ministries.
While Burg’s support of Peres was considered a major boost for Peres, it did not, most observers agreed, meaningfully affect the surface effort for a unity government or continued efforts by Labor and Likud to keep trying to form narrowly-based Labor or Likud governments.