TEL AVIV (Aug. 7)
The Mapam faction of the Labor Alignment, which accounts for six of the 44 Alignment seats in the Knesset, has not dropped its opposition to a national unity government, but has agreed that Labor Party leader Shimon Peres should continue his negotiations with Premier Yitzhak Shamir in the ongoing effort to form a new government.
Mapam does not believe that the wide gap between the two parties can be bridged, and has therefore not sought to halt Peres’ negotiations with Shamir. Peres was chosen Sunday by President Chaim Herzog to form the government. Peres has 21 days to do so, with the option of a 21-day extension. If he should fail by then, Herzog can pick someone else to try.
Peres and his Labor Party colleagues held a five-hour meeting with Mapam leaders today. At the end of the closed door session it was made known that Mapam agreed to a continuation of the Peres-Shamir talks, and that Peres would report back to Mapam on the outcome of his negotiations, after which Mapam would make its final decision. Peres and Shamir met for four hours yesterday, but nothing substantial emerged. The two agreed to meet again Thursday.
During the talks today, Peres tried without success to get Mapam to withdraw publicly its announced opposition to a unity government. But Yaacov Hazan, the veteran leader of Mapam, said the gap between the Alignment and Likud was too great to be bridged, and Mapam therefore could not withdraw its opposition.
Labor Party secretary-general Chaim Barlev said he had not expected the meeting to produce results other than that which was achieved during the five hours.
Victor Shemtov, a Mapam leader, said after the meeting that the main consideration was for the formation of a stable government based on an agreed-upon platform. Other Mapam leaders said they would not torpedo the Peres-Shamir talks and that Peres was negotiating on behalf of the entire Alignment.
MAPAM SETS A ‘RED LINE’
Mapam appears to have set itself a “red line” beyond which it could not agree to continue as an Alignment partner: unfreezing the present deadlock in the political negotiations for an Arab-Israel peace, halting the present rate of settlements in the West Bank, and firm opposition to Orthodox demands for an amendment to the Who is a Jew law.
Mapam’s attitude toward a national unity government is crucial. If it balks and leaves the Alignment, Labor will no longer be the largest party in the Knesset. Likud, with its 41 Knesset seats, will be. Traditionally, the leader of the largest Knesset faction is given the mandate to form a government. Herzog said Sunday, when he gave Peres the mandate, that the nation desired a government of national unity and that “the country needs a quick decision.”
Following today’s meeting with Mapam, the Labor Party leaders continued talks separately with Ezer Weizman, leader of the pivotal Yahad Party which won three seats in the elections; with Amnon Rubinstein of Shinui and with Shulamit Aloni of the Civil Rights Movement, each of which won three Knesset seats; and with Yigael Hurwitz of the Courage to Cure the Economy, which won one seat.
Weizman said after his 90-minute meeting with the Labor leaders that the central problem was not to find a common ground between the Alignment and Yahad, but common ground between Labor and the Likud. If Peres and Shamir could reach an agreement, then Yahad would join a unity government, Weizman said. He said he had not discussed with Labor the formation of a narrower coalition. Ever since the election, Weizman has said he thought a broad Labor-Likud coalition was the only way to pull the country out of its many difficulties.